The ceiling was invisible, obscured by a haze of blue cigarette smoke. Goddamn, Harvey hated these types of bars. The people in them probably hate them too. But his client loved them, so he sat at the bar with a glass of what was apparently whiskey in his hand. Not even the music was good. He had never once considered the fact that such a thing as bad jazz could exist, yet the proof rang out across the room from the shabby-looking musicians on the shabbier-looking stage in the corner. The damn music – if it could be called that – grated into Harvey’s eardrums like nothing he had ever heard.
The revolver in his coat pocket seemed more and more desirable with every passing second. That is, if the smoke floating about didn’t kill him first. Where was the goddamned client?
“Speak of the Devil,” Harvey murmured. The man who had hired him had just skittered into the bar.
The client was one Norman Wooster, some rich fellow who was as short as Jake was tall and managed to be even skinnier than the P.I. despite his enormous wealth. Not even money could hide his receding hairline, and so he resorted to an ill-fitting bowler hat. In fact, the scrawny, bird-like man had donned even more ill-fitting clothes attempting to blend in with the “common rabble”, as he called them. It was painfully obvious that he wasn’t used to that kind of outfit, but he remained unaware of this, as of the eyes that were locked onto his back, following his every move like a hawk stalking its prey.
Or indeed, like a ruffian stalking a millionaire.
“Don’t you just love this atmosphere?” Norman said once he got to Harvey.
“Not really, no,” the P.I. replied. “You know, just because you want a bar whose drinks don’t cost my entire salary doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice quality for it.”
“Ah, but then it’s not authentic.”
“In this city, nothing’s authentic but the crime. Anyway, I got the package, whatever it is, and damn near got killed doing it.”
“Excellent, excellent. Hand it over, then.”
“I don’t have it here.”
“Because this is a terrible neighbourhood, that’s why. I don’t think you want to be carrying something as valuable as the package around here. You’re already in danger ‘cause you reek of money. So instead you’re gonna come with me to where I’ve stashed it and we’ll go from there. Got it?”
“I-I think so.”
“Good, then let’s get outta here before I get lung cancer or something.”
Harvey took a deep breath once he had clambered up the stairs to the dirty sidewalk. It was a bad part of town, and it looked it. But then, the only difference between here and uptown was the look. “Ah, fresh air. Shame about the trash and rats, though.”
“Yes, well,” Norman said. “Shall we go?”
Harvey took a moment to get his bearings before setting off, hands in pockets.
“You know,” he said. “I never thought the sounds of corruption, organised crime and police brutality would sound so sweet, but after that pathetic excuse for jazz… Old Blue Eyes sings about the wrong part of town, let me tell you.”
“You like Frank Sinatra?” asked Norman, earning him a sidelong glance from Harvey.
“What are you, from Mars? Of course I like Sinatra, everybody likes Sinatra. He’s not exclusive to you people.”
“What do you mean, ‘you people’?”
“What I mean is ‘you people with spoons up your asses’.”
“If I knew you were going to be like that I wouldn’t have hired you.”
“Nobody else would take the job, Norman. That’s why you came to me in the first place.”.
“That as it may be-” Norman began, but cut off suddenly. A boulder of a man stood in the pair’s way, brass knuckles on colossal fists gleaming under the electric street-lamps.
“Oh,” said Harvey. “Hey Brucie.”
“Hey Harv,” the boulder replied with a nod. Norman stared at Harvey.
“You know this man?”
“Yeah, he’s a sort of blend between a P.I. and hired muscle. Good guy, though.”
“Hey, thanks,” said the boulder.
“Don’t mention it,” Harvey replied. “Anyway, Brucie, what’re you doing around these parts?”
“Oh, I’ve been hired to kill Wooster, beat the shit outta you and take the package you were hired to get. Nothin’ personal, though. Strictly business.”
“I get it, don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry?” said Norman. “He wants to kill me!”
“He doesn’t want to kill you, Norman,” replied Harvey.
“Yeah, I’m just bein’ paid to,” Brucie added helpfully.
“And that makes it alright?” said Norman.
“Hey, it’s more honest than those cats down at Wall Street,” Harvey shrugged. “Look, calm down and gimme a sec. Sorry Brucie, but we don’t have the package. I expected something like this to happen, so I took precautions.”
“That’s OK,” Brucie replied. “I think I still have to kill him and beat you up, though. Nothin’ personal, ‘course.”
“Of course. Then you understand that I’ll have to try and stop you from killing Norman and beating me up, right?”
There was a long pause.
“So, you wanna fight, or..?” Harvey asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Brucie sighed. He raised his huge fists and took a step forward. “Sorry for this.”
“No problem. It’s just business.”
Harvey, ignoring the now-blubbering Norman, shot Brucie.
“Sorry, Brucie,” he said, putting the gun away.
“Don’t worry about it,” Brucie replied from the ground. “Just business.”
“I’ll catch you around, then.”
“Sure. See you, Harv.”
“See you, Brucie. C’mon, Norman.”
Leaving the boulder where he sat on the pavement, clutching his arm and whistling what was probably supposed to be Blue Moon, Harvey dragged his client on.
“I told you everyone likes Sinatra.”
Born in Argentina to an English father and an Argentinian mother, and moving to Spain shortly thereafter, I found myself an avid reader in two languages ever since I was young. I envy the ability I had back then to devour entire sagas in the space of a couple of months – I’m definitely not capable of that anymore – but I can’t say I miss the first few pieces of fiction I ever wrote. Luckily for us all, those works are not what is being showcased. Instead, here’s a short story I wrote a while ago and edited for my university application.