This story contains sexually explicit scenes.
Cigarette burns pockmarked the yellow surface of the long, oak table sitting in the center of the room. A single, overcrowded ashtray sat lonely on the table’s top. Stale smoke hung in the air and, judging from its lack of movement, could have been hanging there for years. The only window, placed too high on the wall to offer any real illumination, had wire covering its stippled glass. Officer Murphy guarded the door like a centurion – one who had just won a major battle. Sitting across from Moe, leaning back on two legs of a chair, was Detective Jansen, known as Janney to his detective buddies, and pain-in-the-ass to Moe.
Back at Moe’s house, Murphy had had the decency to allow Mona some privacy while she dressed and he never cuffed her. Moe didn’t get the same courtesy. Murphy and his goons watched Moe dress from his socks to his tie.
“Eyeing my wanger might lead me to believe you got other designs, Murphy. Maybe I should be blushing.”
“Shut the fuck up, Gafferson, and get a move on. We got a cell with your name on it.”
“Then there’s no reason to make Mona come along.”
“Ain’t my call about your moll. For now she goes.”
He slapped the cuffs on Moe and then carted him and Mona into the police station. All three policemen had refused to answer Moe’s questions about Metzger’s murder. At the station house, Mona had been escorted to a side desk and offered coffee while Moe had been presented to Detective Jansen.
Moe and Jansen hadn’t become friends or planned any cocktail parties. Twenty minutes had passed since Moe was dragged into the interrogation room. His wrists were still handcuffed, and nothing but the p’s and q’s of Moe’s detective license had been discussed, with Jansen begrudgingly admitting the license was on the level.
Jansen was old for a cop, knocking on the back door of fifty. Too many beers or someone’s home cooking had given him a nice sized paunch. The two thin chair legs seemed to bow under his weight. He looked at Moe through low-lidded eyes. “Why’d you kill him, Gafferson?”
Moe considered not answering, but a murder charge hanging over his head had him feeling a little more cooperative. “Metzger didn’t deserve to live, but it wasn’t me that sought the resolution,” said Moe.
“Murphy tells me the guy cut you up pretty bad.”
Moe cast a glance at Murphy. The flatfoot was wearing a shit-eating grin and leaning casually against the door. Moe didn’t mind pushing a couple of Murphy’s buttons, if for no other reason than to wipe the smile off the copper’s face. “If Murphy knew Metzger committed a crime, why didn’t he get the bum off the street like a good cop would?”
Murphy’s fists clenched, and the grin evaporated. A buck said an audience was the only thing that kept Murphy from using his clenched fists on Moe. It was Moe’s turn to smile. Murphy reacted with a growl and took a step away from the doorjamb he was making love to. Jansen must have sensed an impending scuffle. With a thud, the head detective pushed the front two legs of his chair down to the floor and used his bulk to shove the table toward Moe.
“Listen, Gafferson, we know Metzger had a good hand with a blade. And we know you made a trip to Appollonia’s asking after him – a little tail named Lily Mae gave you up. It’s pretty easy to put two-and-two together.”
“Sorry, Mac. You’re coming up with five. There must be a hundred members in the Sliced-by-Metzger club. Ask Lily Mae, she’s one of them. A peep show with her as the main attraction would reveal some of Metzger’s handiwork on her left tit – whacked off at the nub.”
Moe could almost hear Jansen’s brain ticking as the detective made a mental note about Lily Mae. And then his eyes focused again on Moe. “None of the other ninety-nine were seen fighting with Metzger on the street only hours before he was found dead. That honor belongs to you.”
Moe shrugged. “If I wanted to kill him, I would have done it then. I had him down on the street. Didn’t any of your eye witnesses tell you that?”
Jansen tilted back in the chair again, folding his arms across his chest and resting them on his gut. The bottom button of his shirt tried not to pop. “Nah, I think you’re stupid, but I don’t figure you to be that stupid. You wouldn’t kill a man with so many witnesses screening the action. Where were you last night around midnight, Gafferson?”
A knock on the door stopped Moe from answering. Without waiting for a response, a blue-gray haired woman bustled into the room. Her robust stature forced the seams of her uniform to perform a Herculean feat. She marched over to Jansen, whispered in his ear, and then turned to walk out. Whatever she said didn’t sit well with Jansen. He grumbled under his breath, and he and Murphy followed Mrs. Blue Hair out the door like the Three Stooges mimicking a train.
Moe shifted irritably in his chair. The being-alone-part was fine, but the still-cuffed-part was grating on him. His shoulder cramped and an itch in his armpit, where he couldn’t reach, was annoying the hell out of him. He was tired. Plain and simple. The past week had been rougher than most. He hadn’t slept much and his gut still ached – not the sharp, burning pain of a few days ago, but a dull ache that never subsided. Red embers, like blistering fireflies, burned the back of his eyes. He wanted to snooze for a week. Maybe wake-up a time or two for a tumble with Mona.
Fuck. Mona. What the hell had Moe gotten her in involved in? He knew better than to get cozy with a dame when he was working, especially a dame like Mona. It never worked out. Dames got in the way, screwed up your thinking, reminded a man he’s a man and has a role to protect the weaker sex.
But as a protector, Moe had come up short. The sight of Mona bound and gagged when he’d come home last night, and the look of panic in her eyes, was etched in his brain. If Metzger had still been loitering at Moe’s house at that moment, the police would have had a real reason to haul Moe in. Blazing anger still simmered in his bones. He hoped whoever had offed the louse had made him suffer.
Moe hadn’t been able to keep Metzger’s evil from touching Mona, but he’d be damned if he’d let her get dragged into this any further. Maybe when this was all over, Moe would take her in his arms, squeeze her delicious body close, and the two of them could mull over the cards they’d been dealt. But for now, he was determined to keep her out of trouble.
The stooges returned sans Mrs. Blue Hair and took up their same positions: Murphy at the door and Jansen in the chair opposite Moe. Jansen slipped off his suit jacket and slung it over the back of a nearby chair. As hefty evidence there was no Mrs. Jansen: the wrinkles only slightly outnumbered the stains on Jansen’s dingy dress shirt.
The detective wasted no time getting back to the grilling. “Let’s set the record straight, Gafferson. We know you were Over the Rhine. Schmidt was killed and you got cut up real good. What we don’t know is who Schmidt’s party favor was. And since you do know, we’d be obliged if you’d tell us.”
“I can’t help you.”
“Maybe it was Miss Mona Dale.”
“Keep her out of this. She’s got nothing to do with anything. She’s a nurse I met at the hospital. That’s it!”
“A nurse you’ve gotten pretty friendly with.”
“Drop it, Jansen. You’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Jansen folded his arms across his body and settled them once again on the bulk of his belly. Obviously, his favorite position. “Funny thing, Miss Dale was defensive about you too. Right up until Murphy here told her why we hauled you in and how Lily Mae had a hand in it all.”
Moe jerked around to see a smug Murphy. While Moe and Mona had never discussed dating one-on-one, Moe knew the red-headed nurse would not look too kindly on him bedding a whore – business or not. “You’re a bastard, Murphy.”
Murphy’s smile nearly broke his face. “According to Miss Dale, we both are.”
“Where is she?”
“She seemed in a hurry to leave, and seeing we had no real cause to keep her, she left.”
Moe slowly turned back toward Jansen. He could only imagine what Mona was thinking about him at that moment. Moe was a low life. Maybe no better than Metzger. Sure, Metzger was rougher, but no doubt Moe had hurt her, too. And got her mixed up in the seediness of his world.
But maybe it was better this way. Wasn’t he just thinking how much trouble a dame could be when he was working? And Mona hating him was a lot easier to think about than Mona in harm’s way. She was a damn fine woman who deserved better than Moe could give her. At least now she would be safe.
“Like I said, she’s got nothing to do with this.”
Jansen sighed and rubbed his face. “I’m inclined to believe you Gafferson. Miss Dale seems like an upstanding citizen, someone most men would treat like a lady.”
Moe ignored the dig. It was none of Jansen’s business what had passed between Mona and Moe. And anyway, Moe wasn’t sure he could define it. She was special. That was enough. Moe changed the subject.
“How about removing these bracelets?”
Jansen nodded and waited while Murphy undid the lock on the cuffs. Moe massaged his wrists and stretched his fingers. Like a Hop-a-Long Cassidy twirling his gun, Murphy swung the handcuffs and stuffed them in his pocket and then sauntered back toward the door, his cocky grin still in place. Moe would have liked the chance to connect his fist to Murphy’s chin, just once for good measure. Maybe another time, another place. It was bound to happen. Even in a big city like Cincinnati, Murphy’s and Moe’s paths were always crossing.
“So if Miss Dale wasn’t your client, who was it? Or maybe you didn’t have a client. Maybe you were a partner. Maybe you, Metzger, and Schmidt had a racket going. What happened? Metzger and Schmidt get too greedy?”
“You sit up all night coming up with sham theories like that, Jansen?”
Jansen pointed a beefy finger at Moe and glared at him through steely eyes. “Watch your mouth, Gafferson unless you want to add a busted lip to your list of injuries for the week.” Cincinnati’s finest wasn’t above using a little muscle whenever they saw fit. And in Moe’s experience, they saw fit a lot. Moe kept his mouth shut and let Jansen keep on talking.
“We know Metzger was using Appollonia’s as a clip joint – slipping in hidden doors, shaking down patrons, blackmailing big wigs who have wives or aspirations. What we don’t know is, where do you fit in?”
Moe ran a hand over the back of his neck, working out the kinks that had taken up residence there. If he ever wanted to get out of this hell hole, he was going to have to cooperate. Now seemed as good a time as any. “Lily Mae summed up my one visit to Appollonia’s. Anything else going on there I wouldn’t know about.” It wasn’t much, but it was all Moe had.
Jansen wasn’t convinced. “Metzger did the grunt work. Schmidt put on the air of respectability. What were you?”
Moe sighed. Maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for Moe and Jansen to get along. “Conjecture some sort of game for you, Detective?”
“Indulge me,” said Jansen. “I’m an old man with so few chances to play games.”
Moe leaned back in his chair and crossed an ankle over his leg. He took his time fingering the cuff of his trouser. Something told him Jansen was just on a fishing trip now, hoping to reel in a little information. The truth was an easy thing to give up. “I’d never seen Schmidt before in my life prior to the night he was killed,” said Moe.
It appeared Jansen hadn’t caught his forty winks lately either. The disheveled detective scratched his belly and stifled a yawn. But he didn’t give up. “That leads us back to the unknown player in our little chess match, don’t it Gafferson? The dame that hosted Schmidt’s erection?”
Moe kept silent, still playing with the cuff on his pant like he’d suddenly taken up tailoring. Kitty Winslow was most likely just a woman looking for love in the wrong place. Moe was nearly certain of that now. Unless there was something more to link her to Metzger and Schmidt, he would keep her name out of this. “That’s none of your business,” he said.
Jansen pounded his fist on the table, sending cigarette ashes flying across the room. “Who sent you there to take pictures that night?” he demanded.
Moe figured an angry cop was a cop who didn’t have nothing. He suddenly felt a lot more comfortable. “Sorry can’t help you, boys.”
Jansen took a different tactic and relaxed against his chair. “I admire your loyalty to your client, Gafferson. Too bad it could get you a cell block for life.”
“I’ll have to take my chances. My client couldn’t vouch for my whereabouts when Metzger was iced.”
“Where were you last night?”
“Got any proof?”
Yeah, he had proof – wrapped up in a pretty nurse’s package, but Moe had already made the decision to keep Mona out of this mess. He stayed mute, again.
Jansen barged ahead without waiting for answers. “You own a gun, Gafferson? Maybe one of those new Smith & Wesson .357 Magnums?”
The Magnum was mostly used by cops in big cities. Moe thought they were overkill. Murphy had one hanging from his shoulder holster. “I’m partial to my Roscoe. Only a man with no aim needs a gun like a Magnum.” Moe didn’t look back at Murphy. He didn’t have to. The sound of the copper’s shuffling feet was enough to make Moe smirk.
“Does your client own a gun?” continued Jansen.
“I don’t ask about firearms when I sign on to a case.”
“I’m a guy who likes to take chances.”
“Covering for your client might be too big a risk, Gafferson.”
Jansen was pushing hard for the name of Moe’s client. Moe had to wonder why. There was no way the police could have found out Moe was working for Dutch that night, or that now Moe was working for Kitty. Not unless Mr. and Mrs. Winslow had offered up the information. And that didn’t seem too likely. Especially since up until now, their names had never entered the picture. Something was missing. Did Kitty have more to do with Metzger and Schmidt besides being the bull’s-eye for Schmidt’s arrow? Moe figured it was time for a little give and take. “What if there was a woman who got mixed up with the wrong guy without her knowing?”
Jansen leaned forward, salivating at getting somewhere in the interrogation. “Why do you suppose she got out of this situation without a scratch? Schmidt was killed. You were meant to be. What protected her?”
“Luck, my lily white ass. The broad had something – something that meant a lot to somebody. Enough that it kept her alive.”
Moe had to admit the idea didn’t stink, but he wasn’t completely sold. Kitty was weak and love struck. She wasn’t a leader, only a follower. Knowing that didn’t make the game any easier to orchestrate. The players in this high stakes hullabaloo were folding all around him, and Moe didn’t like thinking he may have underestimated a friend.
“Come on, Gafferson. No tail is worth spending your life behind bars.”
“I didn’t kill Metzger,” Moe said.
“You’re in this up to your neck, and as soon as we piece it together, we’ll be pulling the noose tighter.”
Now Moe knew Jansen was bluffing. “Book me or let me go. I’m done.”
Jansen’s eyes narrowed to slits and the tiny muscle in his jaw clenched. He pushed back the chair and stood. The waist of his pants was wedged well below his gut, but he didn’t bother to adjust it. He suddenly loomed larger than his girth. In a tone full of menace, he said, “I’ll say when we’re done, Gafferson.”
For the first time all morning, Moe understood how Jansen had become lead detective and why Murphy had played second fiddle out of the limelight. Jansen knew how and when to use his authority. Moe felt a grudging respect. But he wasn’t about to give up Kitty’s name. At least not until he had a chance to check her out again for himself.
Jansen grabbed the suit jacket he’d draped over a chair and struggled into it. It did a good job of hiding the yellow sweat stains in the armpits of his white shirt. When he looked at Moe, most of the purple had left his face, and he looked like just another fat cop again. “Today’s your lucky day, Gafferson. I’ve got an appointment, and you’ve got an alibi.”
“It seems your little chippy vouched for your whereabouts all night last night. And lucky for you, Murphy was a witness this morning.”
Moe glanced at Murphy. The scumbag was grinning his little voyeur grin.
“You really are a bunch of bastards parading as do-gooders around here, aren’t you?” said Moe.
Jansen was on him in a heartbeat. He grabbed Moe by the lapels, lifting him out of his chair. His breath smelled of onions and rotten meat. “We don’t owe you anything, Gafferson. Not one goddamn thing.”
Moe’s fists balled up in self-defense, but he held them tight at his side. The last thing he needed was a night in the hoosegow for slugging a detective.
“We’re letting you go because we got nothing to hold you.” Jansen let loose of Moe’s lapels, and Moe slumped back into the chair. “But we’re still looking, and when we find it, your ass is ours.”
“You say the sweetest things, Jansen. A guy could get mushy for being wanted so much.”
Jansen turned his back to Moe and bellowed at Murphy, “Get him out of my fucking sight.”
Rough Cut originally appeared in Ruthie’s Club http://www.ruthiesclub.com/
Copyright © 2004 by Desdmona.