When the city wasn’t trying to broil you, it was trying to wash you into the sewer. All month long it had been this way. Incessant heat punctuated by biblical downfalls. Joe ‘The Hawk’ Larrone didn’t mind this at all. To him it felt like the town was being worked over by a pro, and if ever a place needed some pounding out, it was this one.
Joe stood beneath a street-lamp, the last one working on Pine Boulevard, as the inky-black sky disgorged sheets of rain from the high, hidden clouds. It pounded the top of his big sports-umbrella, making a river of the gurgling gutter and spattering from the neon sign on the building opposite, which was the subject of Joe’s attention.
This building was Clancy’s Bar. To either side of its sign, electric-coloured pineapples, coconuts and other fruits flashed on and off. Through the barred and shuttered windows, yellow light leaked out onto the pavement.
Joe took the list from the breast pocket of his suit and flicked it open. There were seven names written on it. Five of them had been crossed out. He put the paper back into his pocket and stepped from the sidewalk into the deserted road.
Inside the diner, Harry ‘Razor’ Ruddock, lounging on one of the tall seats by the bar, cast a grim eye round the interior, curled up his lip and flicked a shining quarter in the direction of Ragamuffin, in the corner.
The girl caught it smartly in one grubby hand and looked enquiringly at her boss.
“Put something on the god-damn jukebox,” said Harry. “I can’t stand the sound of the rain.”
“I find it peaceful.” The lean form of Buddy Bowers occupied a stool two seats along. He wore a white suit. The pungent smoke from his foreign cigarettes curled up in blue clouds above his angular head. Aside from the three of them and George, the barman, Clancy’s was empty.
The hulking form of George himself stood at his station behind the counter, idly drying a glass with a towel. When Buddy spoke, George looked up.
“Is that right?” said Harry. “Well you’re a god-damn odd bird, Buddy, so I guess that don’t surprise me in the least.”
“Most people like the sound of the rain, boss,” said George.
Harry turned to stare at the barman.
The big man shrugged. “It’s, you know, womb noise. Like when you was a baby in the womb.”
“Womb noise,” repeated Harry. “Womb noise.” He shook his head. “Hey, Ragamuffin, where’s my music?”
The girl with the dirty face stood before the gleaming jukebox. The unit was the only thing in the place which was shining new. The light from its illuminated interior did nothing to flatter the ragamuffin’s appearance.
“I’m choosing a tune,” she said.
“Choose faster,” said Harry.
The front door opened and closed. Harry sensed a distinct change in the status quo. George lightly tapped him upon the shoulder. Buddy pulled himself up a little taller on his stool. It was only when he heard the scraping of a chair and the sound of a weight being put upon it that Harry looked over.
Joe Larrone sat in the corner. His mack was done up, his hat was still on his head. He looked easy. He looked quick. There was a line of wet footprints from the door.
“Who are you?” said Harry.
“I’m bad news,” said Joe, “for some.”
“Is that right?”
Slowly, carefully, Joe undid his coat and pulled it from his shoulders. He put his hat on the table, hooked one leg over the other and settled back.
“You’re Harry Razor Ruddock,” he said.
Harry gave out a slow hand-clap. “And you, my friend, have about ten minutes left to live.”
“Can I get a whiskey?” said Joe.
Harry nodded at George. “Go ahead,” he said, “give the dead man a drink.”
George set a glass down in front of Joe and then retreated back behind the bar.
“Let me tell you a story,” said Joe, after he’d taken a shot.
Harry shrugged assent.