This story contains sexually explicit scenes.
Moe stared through the one-way mirror. The blonde hugged the wall as if it were her new best friend. A fine sheen of sweat crept over her body like untamed ivy. Her mussed hair stuck in the moisture at the sides of her face. The bastard that had browned the girl was back in his seat, pants zipped and buttoned, and stacking his winnings into piles, the girl already forgotten. The rest of the dirty half-dozen sat, waiting for the next round of cards, all eyes on the dealer.
The knot in Moe’s gut squeezed tighter. There was the ordinary snake-in-the-grass type, and then there was its slimy underbelly. Karl Boch and his poker buddies slithered with the latter.
“Here take this.” Dutch held out a glass with a double-shot of bourbon. “You look like you could use it.”
Moe took the glass and knocked back a mouthful of the amber liquid. The expensive hooch burned, and Moe relished the inferno on its slow descent to the pit of his stomach. He studied the remaining booze as he spoke. “I had you figured for a different kind of politicking, Dutch. The games these Kraut lovers play could get you a cement overcoat.”
Dutch shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t get a vote in this election.”
Moe glanced over at Dutch. “Flamingo’s is your place, ain’t it?”
Dutch stood beside Moe, sipping his drink and staring through the mirror, avoiding Moe’s eye. “Some people you just can’t say no to.”
“Put that in writing, and I’ll paste it in my scrapbook.”
Dutch opened his mouth, but then suddenly went mute. Moe was waiting for the straight dope, but something or someone stopped Dutch from dealing it. The sudden look of alarm smothering the club owner’s face had Moe chasing his stare. In the cub room, the blonde number was doubled-over like a desiccated orchid. Streaks of bright red trickled down the inside of her legs and painted her ankles.
Not one man at the table took notice.
“Holy shit! We’ve got to get an ambulance, Dutch.”
Dutch grabbed Moe’s arm in a death grip. “Damn it, Moe. I can’t. The newshounds would get the call as quick as the meat wagons. If there’s any publicity, Boch will shut me down.”
The blonde was doing her best to impersonate a ghost – white enough to see through her. Her shoulder slammed against the wall like she expected to fall through it, but instead she crumbled to the floor. The fine sheen covering her body had progressed to a full-fledged sweat, and her eyes battled to stay open.
Moe spun away from the mirror. “The dame’s going to bleed to death while those jokers take bets. And what’ll we do? Stand by and watch like it’s The Derby?”
“We’ve got to get her out of there,” Dutch mumbled.
Moe looked at his friend and finally recognized the man he knew. Dutch may not be a first class citizen, but he wasn’t a shucker either. No girl’s life was a throw-away, no matter what company she kept. It was good to hear Dutch agree.
“If you get her out of there, I’ll take her,” Moe said.
“If there’s a scandal, Moe ...”
“No scandal. I know a nurse.”
Dutch eyed Moe with a steady stare while grinding his teeth and clenching his jaw muscles. Moe knew him well enough to know a plan was gelling in Dutch’s mind, and as soon as he had it figured out, he would act, and quick. Moe’s inclination was to dash in, grab the blonde, and dash out. But Dutch had something else in mind.
“Follow me,” he said. Dutch led them to the cub room door. He put his hand on Moe’s shoulder and spoke calmly and firmly. “Wait here. Let me schmooze a little. I’ll leave the door open, and if I need backup, you come in with guns blazing. You got me, Moe?”
Moe wasn’t crazy about the odds—six hoods against two guys trying to do good. But Moe and Dutch had the element of surprise on their side, and there was a chance the thugs might want a babysitter help for their sick little plaything.
Dutch slipped through the door, and Moe inched close and hooked an ear.
“Mr. Winslow, have you decided to join us after all?” Moe recognized Councilman Boch’s voice from a radio speech after his renomination. Two years ago, Moe would have called the thickly formal voice dishonest. Now he’d call it sinister.
Dutch could be smooth under pressure. “Hello, gentleman,” he said. “I trust it’s been a successful evening.”
The card gang mumbled their approval of the evening’s proceedings. Moe got antsy. He pulled out his heater and checked its load. If he needed fire power, he wanted to be ready, and he didn’t want to miss.
“Maybe I should take the dame and get her cleaned up,” said Dutch.
A hush settled over the room as if Dutch was hustling hymns to the heathens. Moe hoped the blonde was getting a long overdue bit of respect, but he was disappointed.
“Are you afraid of getting a little blood on your floor, Winslow?” The voice wasn’t recognizable, but Moe’s gut told him it was Wolfman. The winner of the last hand seemed to be every bit as low down as Boch.
“Stand up, Danja!” The command in Boch’s tone was undeniable, but it was the name that got Moe’s attention. Danja. The name Opal gave the woman who lived in the Over-the-Rhine cottage where this whole gig started. Moe’s desire to get the dame out of there suddenly tripled.
“We haven’t finished our card game, Winslow. She brings me luck.” Karl Boch was evil incarnate, there was no doubt about it. Disgust had Moe’s trigger finger twitching.
“You gentleman won’t get much use out of her if she’s just a heap on the floor,” offered Dutch. A response that Moe couldn’t hear had the men chuckling, but he got the gist of what the pissant meant.
Moe’s patience stretched tighter than a belly fiddle. Every second that passed, Danja lost more blood, and these bums were cracking jokes. The roscoe thrummed in his hand, almost begging him to use it, if only to wipe the grins off the sons of bitches’ faces.
“All right, Winslow. Take her, and get her a bath. We’ll play one round without her. The tramp should have told me it was time for her monthly.”
Seconds later, Dutch came out the door, carrying the blonde. Councilman Boch’s voice drifted into the hallway after them. “I hope you boys won’t mind a little red claret with your winnings.” Dutch kicked the door shut, closing off the answer to Boch’s outrageous remark.
Moe’s experience with women and their misery was fuzzy at best, but he knew enough to know whatever was going on with this dame was more than just her monthly cycle. Danja Bittners was even ghostlier than she’d looked through the mirror. Her lips were dry and chafed and the veins under her skin looked like a road map, but she was still able to whisper, “Thank you” to Dutch.
Dutch tilted his head toward Moe. “Thank him. He’s the guy playing my conscience today.”
Her eyes shifted to Moe, and she tried to smile. Moe would have bet a C-note she came from class. But dangling limp and naked in Dutch’s arms, she looked more like a street urchin—thinner than the gold on a weekend wedding ring.
Dutch didn’t pause for niceties. “C’mon, Moe. He’s expecting her back.” Dutch carried her to the far end of the hall. Moe checked the closed door behind them for a sudden turn of the knob and followed, his pistol ready,. The three of them stumbled into an unoccupied cub room.
Moe stashed his revolver back in its leather and pulled the door closed. Dutch set Danja on the bed. Blood stained his arms and dribbled on the rug. Dutch stood paralyzed, looking at the blood and swallowing hard. Danja moaned and fell back to the bed like an empty puppet.
“God damned,” Dutch croaked.
Moe yanked open drawers and threw open doors looking for something to cover Danja’s naked body. He finally found a blanket in the top of a closet.
“Snap out of it Dutch, and help me get this around her.”
Dutch cleared his throat and finally scrambled to help. Together, Moe and Dutch swaddled Danja like a newborn. When they were finished, she was wrapped too tightly to walk, but odds were she was too weak to stand, let alone run to save her own life. Moe lifted her up with one arm around her back and the other under her knees. He cradled her close to his chest. It was like carrying a baby chick.
Dutch opened the door and glanced toward the other cub room. The hallway was empty, and the door was still shut. He hurried to the service elevator. Moe trailed behind, carrying the girl and keeping an ear out for the sound of an opening door.
The service elevator door eased open, and Moe hustled inside. “What will you tell Boch when he asks for her?”
The girl’s blood was drying on Dutch’s arm and shirt like an impressionist’s painting, and Dutch was carefully avoiding touching it. “I’ll think of something,” he said.
“Better spin it good.”
Dutch nodded and looked down at the caked blood on his stiff white shirt.. “Just get her out of here before I remember how much Flamingo’s means to me.”
The door closed and Moe shifted the weight of the girl in his arms. She was light but still heavy enough to strain his arms.
The elevator ride down was short and quiet. Danja was in and out, trying hard to keep her eyes open, and Moe was too busy thinking about their escape to chit-chat. When the elevator let them off, Moe rushed to the side entrance, far away from the grand arrivals at the front, holding her tight against his chest and breathing like a freight train. His car was parked discreetly in a nearby alley. He stopped and leaned against the brick wall twice to reposition the girl in his arms. The sight of the old Buick, hugging the curb, was like water at the end of a desert. He slid Danja into the front seat and jogged around to the driver’s side. He checked his watch – only a few minutes had ticked off the clock since they’d taken Danja from the poker game. They’d been faster than he thought. But there was still no time to lose. Boch would be missing her soon, and Moe needed all the head start he could get.
He’d been maneuvering the obscure back streets of Cincinnati all his life. It came in handy when avoiding traffic or slipping away from a patrolling black and white. He thought about dropping a dime and calling Mona first, but too much sand would drip from the hourglass. He turned up Reading Road and made his way toward the suburban area of Norwood. Mona’s house was at least twelve minutes away. Thank goodness he’d looked up her address in the hours after the cops had let him go. He hoped she lived alone.
Moe glanced at the girl. Her eyes were open and watching him. “You’re going to be fine, Danja,” he said. “I know someone who can take care of you.”
“What is your name?” Her voice was soft and weak like a newborn puppy – the runt of the litter – and thick with an accent.
“Moe. Moe Gafferson.”
Her eyelids fluttered. “You are the private detective who was hurt when Peter was killed, are you not?”
There were a thousand questions Moe wanted to ask, and he would have waited, but if the puppy wanted to yap, he was willing to listen. “What do you know about it, Danja?”
“Why are you helping me, Mr. Gafferson?”
“Let’s just say I don’t like bullies, especially when they dress up like politicians.”
Her head fell back on the seat of the car and her eyes began to leak. “Peter did not deserve to die.”
Peter Schmidt must have been some kind of schmoozer. What made the guy so special that he left women blubbering after him—first Kitty Winslow and now Danja? “Another dame told me the same thing a few days ago.”
Danja went on as if Moe weren’t there. “I am glad Rolf is dead. He was a horrible man.”
“You won’t get an argument from me on that one, sister.”
“I tried to tell Peter it was not worth it.”
“What wasn’t worth it?”
“Too risky.” Her words trailed off, and her head sagged to the side.
She looked dead, especially in the dark of the night where no light could help her color. Nine more minutes to Mona’s house, seven if he hurried. But Moe was afraid seven minutes was too long. He watched the road with one eye and looked for signs of life from Danja with the other. He held his hand in front of her mouth and waited. It seemed like an eternity before he felt the first breath puff across his fingers, but then another followed, and another. He pushed in the clutch, jerked into third, and stepped on the gas. With the jolt of the car, Danja’s head flopped toward Moe. It managed to rouse her.
“No, Danja. It’s Moe.”
“Bruder, warum habst du mir nicht zugehört?”
Moe wasn’t fluent in German, but he knew enough to know Bruder was brother. Then he saw it—the resemblance—same blond hair, same blue eyes. He downshifted around a corner and accelerated down an empty side street.
“Was Schmidt your brother?”
“Ja. Mein Bruder.”
He screamed through one stop sign, and then another, barely missing a parked car. “English, baby, English,” said Moe. “What did you warn Peter about? What was too risky?”
Her pasty skin glowed in the dark as if it were neon. Her eyes clamped shut, and she moaned in pain. “He is a bad man,” she slurred.
Moe turned onto Dana Avenue to cross over to Montgomery Road, only to pull behind a cop car. “What was too risky, Danja?” He followed the cop car for a block and then pulled back off the main road onto the next side road and blasted through the residential streets.
“Diamonds? Did you say diamonds?”
“Ja ... Arrrrrrgghhh!” The scream curdled in her throat and rang in Moe’s ear like the bells of St. Mary’s. She slumped against his shifting arm like dead weight. And Moe tasted real fear. He tried to remember a prayer to Saint Anthony he might have learned decades ago.
“Danja, can you hear me? Danja?”
When she didn’t answer, panic nearly choked him until he realized he could feel the rise and fall of her chest against his arm. She was conked, but at least she was alive. He lurched around a corner and back onto the main road. Fuck the cops. He’d take the chance he could out run them. Six more minutes and he’d be at Mona’s.
Mona. Sweet, sweet Mona. If she didn’t hate him already, she probably would after tonight. Mona was a grand dame, but even her compassion couldn’t be expected to accept Moe showing up on her doorstep with a bleeding woman in tow.
He was three minutes away when he felt the warm, sticky wetness and smelled the iron-like aroma of blood. The seat of his car was saturated, and it had seeped through his pants to his bare skin.
Moe had seen a lot of blood in his days, including his own, but nothing compared to this. “Jesus,” he said. His voice echoed like he was inside a tomb. A chill ran through his body and he tried not to shiver. He gripped the steering wheel and concentrated on breathing in and out. Two minutes to go. With Danja’s blood running down his leg, he punched the pedal to the floor.
Rough Cut originally appeared in Ruthie’s Club http://www.ruthiesclub.com/
Copyright © 2004 by Desdmona.