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On The Pad
About the Author: R.T. Lawton is a retired federal law enforcement agent, past member of the Mystery Writers of America board of directors, a 2022 Edgar Award winner for Best Short Story and has over 160 short stories in various anthologies and other publications, to include 50 sold to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and five to Mystery Magazine. He currently has nine short story collections in paperback and e-format on Amazon.

I was sitting up to the bar batting the breeze with the friendly bartender, but mostly I was waiting for this doll I had a date with to show up. Yesterday afternoon during a chance meeting in a corner drugstore, she let it slip that she had always wanted to come to this particular speakeasy, but she didn’t want to hang out here all by her lonesome self. As good-looking as she was, I was more than happy to volunteer my services.

At this point, however, she was running more than twenty minutes late which meant her status in my mind was gradually dropping. I didn’t appreciate feeling like a chump who got stood up, so I’d give her ten more minutes and then I was walking, didn’t make any difference how good-looking she was.

Glancing around the inside of the place once more, I didn’t see anyone I knew. That was a good thing. To the best of my knowledge, this speakeasy I was nursing my drink in was independently owned, otherwise, as a vice detective I wouldn’t be sitting here. It was on my mind that some of the city’s mobbed-up bootleggers might consider this as a good opportunity to try getting their hooks into me if I was drinking in one of their speaks. But, in the end, it didn’t make any difference, cuz this is where they came for me anyway.

The Italians ran their own speakeasys in the Mulberry Street area, plus they supplied booze to several of the independents throughout the city. But our vice squad had been hitting their warehouses, trucks and joints fairly regular, so it wasn’t safe for me to show up alone in one of their places. As far as I knew, I hadn’t.

I suppose I could have come up with an alternative joint to meet my supposed date. Maybe suggested that we get together at one of the speakeasys the Irish clans owned, but then my Rainbow Division buddy from The-War-to-end-all-Wars over in Europe was now part of that same Irish mob which just happened to be run by his dad, several uncles and various cousins. Seemed Jake Cleary and I had taken different career paths after we came back home from the war, and these days it wasn’t smart for us to be seen together.

Working for different outfits hadn’t caused any split between us as friends because our old ties held and we still had each other’s backs, the same as when we were crawling through the mud of No Man’s Land or fighting in the trenches. Of course, with me now being a cop and him being a bootlegger, it was only natural that these different occupations could run into conflict.

When I saw the first gangster enter the speakeasy, I didn’t think much of it. He could’ve been looking for someone, or even checking out the action to see if his mob could maybe supply this joint with some of their bathtub gin. No skin off my nose at this point. Besides, I knew this bruiser slightly and was fairly sure he remembered me.

Bruno had been a door guard at one of the Italian speaks we’d raided a couple of months back. After the bust, our uniforms had loaded him into the back of the Black Maria along with several of the joint’s patrons for a ride down to the precinct house to get booked. Turned out their time in the jug didn’t last long. They’d all been bonded out by some sleazy mob attorney within the hour. Nothing personal between this guy and me, so I played friendly, especially since he was walking straight from the door towards me.

“Hi ya, Bruno. How you doing?”

He just grunted and kept his face blank.

That’s when my peripheral vision noticed a couple more of his mob headed my way, one coming up on either side of me. I figured the bartender must’ve seen what was about to happen and took this as his cue to find busywork at the other end of the bar cuz all of a sudden, he quit yakking about nothing and it got real quiet behind me. Just goes to show you how bad I’d misjudged the situation.

I slid off the stool, put my back against the bar and eased my right hand into the upper left side of my suit coat, reaching for my .38 automatic resting comfortably in my shoulder holster.

Bruno saw my move and came to an abrupt halt about six feet away. His guys on either side of me also quit moving.

This was good. No sense drawing my weapon in here and scaring the general public if I didn’t have to. Still, I kept my hand right where it was. None of the other patrons seemed to be paying close attention to us.

Bruno cocked his head slightly and looked at me.

“Don’t worry about me and the boys, Ev, the boss just wants a word or two with you about something.”

This story appears in our APR 2024 Issue
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