This story contains sexually explicit scenes.
“Mr. Gafferson! What do you think you’re doing?”
It’d taken some effort, but Moe had finally got past the three-month-old baby stage. He was sitting up. Sort of. His legs hung limply over the side of the bed like packaged meat. Beads of sweat dotted his upper lip. And if he let go of the side rail he’d probably play patty cake with the floor. But at least he was upright.
“I’m busting out,” he panted. “This place gives me the creeps.” Moe hated the weak, breathy sound of his voice.
Mona Dale’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, really? How far do you think you’ll get before those stitches pop and you lose what little blood you have left?”
“Far enough to get a good meal. A man’s last meal shouldn’t be carrots he sipped through a straw.”
Mona Dale grinned. Not an ordinary nurse, this dame. Most of the Nightingales would have been in a lather, pushing Moe back to bed. Not her. Miss Dale’s green eyes sparkled as she leaned against the doorjamb like she was posing for a pin-up. “All right,” she said. “I’ll wait here. Bring me back a ham and swiss.”
Moe could have stared all day at the way her feminine curves fought with the starched white uniform. “They don’t serve deli food where I’m going,” he said.
“What if I can swing a plate of mashed potatoes? Would you consider staying with us a little longer?”
Moe liked her style: soft with some bite around the edges. The slim hope that her tits might win the battle against her buttons didn’t hurt either. But the dealmakers that had him acquiescing was the killer pain in his side, the nausea in his gut, and the weakness in his legs.
“Gravy, too?” he groaned.
“Only if you promise to stay in bed.”
“Yes, Mama.” Moe felt like a little boy being put to bed, except no mamas in his neighborhood ever looked like this frill. His body might not be up to do-si-do-ing with the nursing staff, but it couldn’t hurt to lay some groundwork for the future. Moe wouldn’t mind seeing a little more of Mona Dale when just lifting his head didn’t feel like work.
“You got something special planned for me, Miss Dale?”
She didn’t answer. Instead she sashayed over, felt Moe’s forehead with the back of her hand, and stuck a thermometer in his mouth. Five minutes later, Moe was back under his blanket, feeling like he’d climbed twelve stories to the penthouse suite.
“Mr. Gafferson ... ” she read the thermometer and scribbled on her clipboard. “I figure you for a man who wouldn’t care to hear the percentage of people who die, not from their stab wounds, but from the infection they get afterward.”
“You figure that right.”
She didn’t look up. “Then I’ll save that speech for the next guy.”
She finished her Red Cross routine by reaching behind Moe and fluffing his pillow. A man would have to be dead not to notice the sweet smell of Miss Dale, or the sweet swell of her breast against his shoulder.
“What do you do when you’re not bashing pillows and pushing mercury sticks, doll?”
Before Mona could answer, a tough cop from uptown Cincy, Officer Harold Murphy, waltzed into the room. Murphy could be a poster boy for Irish Catholic cops, except the Irish brogue had evaporated from his family a couple of generations ago.
“Hitting on the nurses, Gafferson?” Murphy smirked. “I guess the story you was shadowboxing with Lucifer was a little premature?”
Officer Murphy and Moe had butt heads on more than one occasion. Murphy didn’t like anyone playing John Law unless he carried the right kind of badge and wore the right color of blue. Moe wore mostly gray and kept his PI license in a drawer in his office.
“I wondered how long before a flatfoot would show up. Draw the short straw again, Murphy?”
“Apparently not as short as you, Gafferson. You ain’t lookin’ so good.”
Moe wasn’t feeling so good either, but that was none of Murphy’s business.
Mona Dale stepped up like a tiger protecting her cub. “Officer Murphy, is it?”
Murphy removed his hat and nodded politely. “Uh, yes, ma’am. Harold Murphy. Please to make your acquaintance.” Murphy’s pale Irish skin bloomed red. Moe had never seen this side of the guy, the side that went all squashy with manners. Beautiful dames could be powerful.
“Officer Murphy, this man has been through a great deal. I won’t allow you to upset him.”
“No, ma’am. I wasn’t planning to. But I do have to ask him a few questions.”
“I’m trusting you to be a man of your word.” She gave Murphy the Mother Superior look and then turned to Moe. “I’ll just go see about some potatoes.”
She left the room with two pair of eyes glued to her caboose and a momentary silence in shared appreciation.
When there was nothing else to look at, Moe spoke first. “What took you boys so long, Murphy? I figured you’d be here writing my epitaph.”
“We’ve been busy writing one for the other stiff.”
Moe took a second take. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t bust my chops, Gafferson. You know who I mean. The stiff in the house where you was snooping.”
Moe played the reel-to-reel in his head. The last thing he remembered was Mr. Smooth giving it to Kitty. Who was dead?
“What’s this stiff to me?”
Murphy closed in until he could touch the side of the bed. “You were there. He was there. You boys wasn’t playing tiddly-winks.” Murphy paused. “Or maybe you was.” He let his shoulders relax. “I never figured you for a daisy, Moe.”
So the stiff wasn’t Kitty Winslow. Moe let free the breath he didn’t know he was holding. “I never stepped foot inside that house.”
“Oh, no? Well, he was playing footsies with someone. If it wasn’t you, then who was it?”
“How should I know? I don’t even know the gink’s name.”
“You was playing Private Dick, Moe, you always are. We find a man naked and spent and the smell of sex still dripping in the air, we figure he wasn’t alone at the climax. What was on that broken camera of yours anyway?”
“Don’t be a wise-ass, Gafferson. You’re in up to your neck in this one. You better come clean.”
Moe glanced down at the bandages covering him from armpit-to-armpit. “I thought I was the victim.”
“That’s what happens to guys who stick their nose where it don’t belong.”
“All choked up, aren’t you Murphy?”
Murphy shrugged. “I ain’t got time for handing out handkerchiefs.”
Moe rubbed his hands over his face. He’d had enough chit-chatting with Murphy, and he wasn’t above milking a predicament when he needed to. “My mind’s a little jingle-brained, Murphy. Facing a coffin will do that.”
“Your mind’s as clear as rain water, Gafferson. You better spill what you know.”
“I think the nurse is coming, Murphy. You want to stick around to show off your manners, or maybe change my bandages?”
Murphy glimpsed over his shoulder. “Nah, I got better things to do than squeezing gimps like you. But something you oughta remember, Moe.” He put his hat on and walked toward the door, whistling. “Killers don’t like leaving jobs undone.”
Murphy continued whistling all the way down the hall. A perfect rendition of Taps.
“Have a nice day, Murphy,” Moe yelled after him. A sharp pain in his gut told him he wasn’t ready to do much yelling, not yet.
Moe closed his eyes. His body wanted to snooze, but his brain was working overtime. If Mr. Smooth was the one bumped, that muddied up the water. In Moe’s experience, goons with knives didn’t work alone. Moe had figured his attacker was a pal of Mr. Smooth’s. So if Smooth wasn’t the goon’s dance partner, who was? Moe could only drum up two possibilities.
Dutch Winslow didn’t fit right—murder wasn’t in his line-up. Dutch might have wanted Mr. Smooth out of the picture, but slicing up Moe in the process made no sense.
That left Kitty. But why would she want to off her lover?
Minutes later, the drugs in his body won the tug-of-war, and like it or not, Moe was snoozing.
Moe opened his eyes to the bright light of the mid-day sun shining through the lone window in his room. The tick-tock of the clock reminded him how much time he was wasting. He didn’t sleep this much after an all-nighter with a belly full of hooch.
Must have been the mashed potatoes. That red-hot tomato parading as a nurse had proved true to her word and brought Moe a plateful. Moe had woken up just long enough to spoon down the spuds and contemplate how mouthwatering Mona Dale was. He had dozed back off thinking about how her soft and smooth and creamy skin.
Moe wished his door was open. He might have caught a glimpse of her as she traipsed up and down the hallway, working her nurse’s tush off. On the other hand, with all this privacy, he could try to get out of bed again without getting his knuckles rapped. Just as he’d mustered up the strength to do it, the door swung open.
Moe had been ready to box with Mona over getting out of bed. He wasn’t prepared to see Dutch Winslow.
“What are you doing here, Dutch?”
“I heard rumors you were barely alive.”
“Yeah? Who told you?”
“A man hears things when he keeps his ears open.”
Moe tried to get to his feet, but he was as wobbly as a fork standing in pudding. Sweat trickled down his chest and worked its way into his wound, stinging the hell of him.
“How about giving a guy a hand, Dutch?”
Dutch held out an arm and Moe leveled upright against him. The burning pain shot deep, but it didn’t cripple him over this time. It was getting better. Or maybe Moe was getting used to it.
Moe steadied himself and tried to show some semblance of dignity. “What else you hear, Dutch?” he gasped.
“That you were luckier than the other guy.”
Moe stood steady for a minute but figured he’d had enough exercise when his legs started to shake, and he thought he saw two of Dutch. He slumped back onto the bed. Dutch was staring at him.
“Not a pretty site, is it?” Moe said.
“I’ve seen worse.”
There was something off about Dutch. He was dressed to the nine’s as always: tailored pinstripe suit, starched white shirt, gold cuff links. But he had a look about him—a little more strain around the eyes, a little less punch in his step, and he was fiddling with the hat in his hands like a nervous groom.
“How’s your wife, Dutch?”
“Listen, Moe, that’s what I want to talk to you about.” Dutch reached in his suit, pulled out an envelope, and tossed it on the bed. “Kitty’s fine. I won’t be needing your services any more.”
“Is that so?”
“You’ll find your standard fee, plus an extra bonus.”
Moe looked at the envelope. It was fat. A lot fatter than it should have been. “That’s got the markings of a pay-off, Dutch.”
Dutch fiddled with his hat some more. But his eyes never left Moe’s. “What do you mean?”
“You want me to spell it out for you?”
Dutch’s jaw tightened. “Maybe you should, Moe.”
“All right. There were four people at that house. One is dead and one is in the hospital. That leaves two unaccounted for. Is it getting any clearer, Dutch?”
“Kitty’s got nothing to do with it.”
“Says me, that’s who.”
“I wonder if the police will feel the same way, Dutch.”
Dutch’s hands tightened into fists, pinching the rim of his hat. “Are you threatening me, Moe?”
“Me? I’m a man who can barely take a piss without someone’s help, what kind of threat am I?”
Uneasy silence, like a bad first date, hung in the room. Moe’s brain fumbled for some answers. The job was over, that much he understood, but Dutch was hiding something. Something he wanted buried six feet under. Moe would have bet his life on it.
“Just let it go, Moe. Take the money. Fly to Atlantic City. Pay some bills, whatever.”
“And the police?”
“Tell them whatever you’ve got to tell them.”
Moe might have asked if that meant tell the police what they want to know, tell them that Kitty Winslow was who they were looking for. But Mona came into the room, carrying a stethoscope and a medicine cup.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’ve got a few things I have to take care of.”
“That’s okay. I was just leaving.” Dutch stepped away, crammed his hat on his head, and hurried toward the door, never looking at Nurse Dale. Moe didn’t try to stop him.
“I didn’t mean to rush him off, but…”
Moe interrupted. “He’s a busy man.”
“You promised to stay put,” she finished, as she helped ease Moe back under the covers.
Moe picked up the envelope and turned it over in his hands. Yeah, it was fat, fat enough to hold two G’s. Moe was disgusted. Disgusted with himself for being a patsy. Disgusted that he was forced to lie here like an invalid. And disgusted that he couldn’t do a damn thing about any of it, including handling the pretty feline that was leaning in close with cherry lips just inches from his, listening to his chest with her stethoscope.
“I’ve got to get out of here, Mona.”
“I mean it.”
“Mr. Gafferson ... ”
“Call me, Moe.”
“All right, Moe.” She left the bell of the stethoscope on his chest but took the prongs out of her ears. “You can’t rush these things.”
“I’m going to end up in the nuthatch. Lying in bed with no purpose can drive a man crazy.”
“You need a purpose?” Mona’s hand remained on his bare chest, warm and soft like a cuddling kitten. “You’re making nice progress. Who knows, if you’re a good boy, tomorrow we might try sitting in the chair.”
“I’d rather be sitting at a bar drinking a Jack D.”
“And I’d rather be dancing, but I’ve got work to do. And you need to concentrate on getting better.”
Her green eyes stared straight into his baby blues. Her tongue darted out and took a long, slow tour of her lips. This wasn’t part of any nursing job Moe knew of. He forced himself to swallow.
“So you like to dance, huh?”
“I like to do a lot of things, Moe.”
It wasn’t as much what she said as how she said it—like hot syrup poured over a stack of cakes. The dame was stirring up flames that had no way to burn.
“Mona ... ”
A throat clearing interrupted them. Mona’s eyes shifted past Moe to look toward the door.
“You’re a popular man today,” Mona whispered.
Moe followed Mona’s gaze and saw the last person on earth he expected to see.
Rough Cut originally appeared in Ruthie’s Club http://www.ruthiesclub.com/
Copyright © 2004 by Desdmona.