We settled on a few more details and I left the bar. I didn’t walk out with Delvecchio; instead, I took a detour to the ladies’ room and then made my way back through the kitchen and out the back door.
Upon reflection, it probably wasn’t my best move. As I stepped out into the darkened back lot, I felt a presence behind me. Beside the door, leaning near the dumpster was a dark-haired man who stepped out of the shadows as I began walking away.
“Miss, are you forgetting something?” the voice asked.
“What the f…,” I started, “Who the hell are you?” I screeched. I tried to affect a tough posture, but I was sure it wasn’t coming through. I felt the side of my handbag, hoping to find the outline of my gun. I was immediately disappointed. Jesus, surely I had some kind of weapon in there. Otherwise, what was the point of carrying the damned thing?
“This isn’t the best part of town for you to be creeping down back alleys,” he said.
“Thanks for your concern, but I’ll be fine,” I said.
The figure stepped closer and grabbed my arm, twisting it behind me. “I’m not so sure about that,” he whispered in my ear as he tightened his grip.
“Hey, what…” I exclaimed. I hadn’t figured things would escalate so quickly.
“You and that guy, Delvecchio, seem kind of tight,” he said,
“What’s he need from you?”
“From me?” I asked, trying to play dumb and hoping like hell it wasn’t obvious that I was trying out our cover story for the first time.
“He’s my accountant. I don’t think he wants anything from me other than my receipts.”
The man tightened his grip and said, “You sure about that?” The pain was intense, and I tried to keep from crying. Fortunately, I wasn’t prone to tears and had not actually cried for years. “I’m pretty sure…he just does my books for me because I got audited last year and figured I’d better get help with this round of tax bullshit.” The grip relaxed a little. He stepped closer and looked me in the eye, no doubt trying to ascertain the degree of sincerity in my responses. “Maybe I got the wrong person, aren’t you some kind of detective?” he asked.
“I’m a private detective, but not a very good one,” I said, shaking my head for effect. I hoped I could reassure the guy that I wasn’t any threat to whatever the hell it was he had going. “I came out through the back because an old boyfriend came into the bar and I didn’t want him to see me.”
“Right, right,” said the man as he straightened his suit as though smoothing away the whole encounter.
He let go of my arm and I started to back away from him. Just as this was happening, the back door to the bar opened and my friend Ramone stepped out with a garbage bag. He looked at the two of them and asked, “Is everything okay here, Rona?”
“Oh, yeah, this guy was just asking for directions to the drug store,” I said steadily. The man stepped up and said, “Yeah, do you happen to know how late they stay open?”
“Grossman’s down the strip stays open until midnight, that’s probably your best bet right now,” Ramone said, he didn’t appear to suspect that this guy had just put a permanent crimp in my arm with his Kung Fu grip.
“Thanks,” he said, “I’ll head that way.” He quickly shuffled away; looking back over his shoulder at me to make sure he had instilled sufficient fear. He tipped his hat slightly and disappeared.
I let out a sigh and looked at Ramone with a scowl. “Shit.”
“What, shit?” he asked, looking puzzled. “Was that guy giving you problems?”
I thought about it and looked at Ramone, “No, he just scared the hell out of me. Here I was trying to sneak out the back and there’s this dude just standing around. It threw me for a loop, that’s all.”
I didn’t want to give him too much information and put him in the middle of this mess. I reassured him that everything was fine and made my way to the car. Thankfully, the rest of the evening was uneventful, and I was able to get my usual four hours of sleep without worrying that someone might break in and strangle me in the middle of the night.
I woke at around 6 a.m. and drank three cups of heavily sugared coffee while I watched the morning news. I showered, put on jeans and a T-shirt, brushed my teeth and ran a comb through my hair. Foregoing breakfast, I picked up a bag of chips that was lying on the counter and tucked it into my bag. That might be sufficient to get me through any hunger pangs I would have before I spotted an IHOP. On the way out, I stuffed my tape recorder, a pad and pencil, and my gun in my bag. The gun was a Ruger .32 and I wished I’d had it with me the night before. As it happened, the most lethal thing I had been carrying in my bag last night was a tampon. To date, I hadn’t killed anyone, but I had managed to injure a couple dozen people as a matter of self-preservation. It was a good thing I could bullshit my way through police statements. There was only the one time when it hadn’t been considered self-defense and I’d paid the price for that. My time in the county jail had actually worked out for the best. I made some great contacts on the inside.
This was where I was going to start looking for Janetti. After stopping off at the IHOP and scarfing down a plateful of blintzes covered in strawberry topping, I headed to the county jail. I was hoping to see a former acquaintance, Trey Marsdon. Trey and I had gone to the same high school but hadn’t really known one another until we met up at a local bar. He was a stunning specimen. His biceps were legendary, and his deep brown eyes made all of the girls melt. He had driven me wild once upon a time.
I sat down across from Trey and picked up the telephone handset on my side of the glass. He picked up on his end, smiling slyly as he said, “Hey cutie, what’s shakin’?”
“Damn near everything,” I said, “How’s it going for you?”
“Can’t complain,” he said, “I got everything I need here and I’m outta here in three weeks.”
“That’s cool,” I said, “What are your plans for when you get out?”
“I was hoping you could tell me that,” he said, smiling again.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said, smiling back at him, “We can talk about that later.”
“What gives?” he asked, “You got a new boyfriend or something?” He ran his hands through his shoulder length, shiny, brown hair.
“No, nothing like that,” I said, “To be honest, I came to see you because I need your help.”
“My help?” he asked, “What kind of help can I give you? I’ve been in here for so long, I can’t remember where I live?”
“I need to know if you ever dealt with a guy named Luther Janetti,” I said.
“Janetti,” he said, “Yeah, that sounds familiar.”
“It does?” I asked, crossing my fingers as I asked, “Where do you
know him from?”
“Hold on, let me think,” he said, “It’s been a while since I heard that name, but I know I heard of the guy.”
“Take your time,” I said, “I’ve got all day.”
“As it turns out,” he said, laughing, “So do I.”
We both laughed and then he stopped and sat up in his chair snapping his fingers. “I got it,” he said, “Janetti is that guy that lost all that money to McAthorn in the poker tournament last month.”
“What?” I asked, “A poker tournament?”
“Yeah, yeah, there was this tournament over at McAthorn’s club and the stakes were real high, we’re talking $30 grand or more a hand,” he said.
“Oh yeah?” I was surprised. I hadn’t thought about that angle, I’d been thinking maybe Janetti was doing a little money laundering using Trey’s outfit to help with the transport.
“Yeah, it was something else, I was watching the game when Janetti went all in on the most fucked up hand,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘This guy’s gonna get his ass handed to him on the flop.’”
“And I take it he did?” I asked.
“Like nothing I ever saw,” he said.
“So, how much was he into McAthorn for? Any idea?” I asked.
“It looked like about half a million,” he said. He shook his head as he thought back to that night. “What a dipshit that guy was.”
“Did you ever hear anything else about it?” I asked.
“Nope,” he answered quickly, “Not a thing.”
“Hmm, well, that’s more than I had when I came in,” I said, “Thanks
for the info.”
“So are we on for a date when I get out?” he said, licking his lips and smiling. For someone who was in jail, he was awful damned happy.
“Call me,” I said, “I’m in the book.” I winked at him as I hung up the phone and got up from my chair.
He blew me a kiss and said, “You know I will.”
As I left the jail, I felt a renewed sense of hope. McAthorn was a good lead. If I could get to him, I’d either be one step closer to finding Janetti or I’d have one more bad son of a bitch on my tail. I would save my visit to McAthorn for a little later in the day. It was about two-thirty in the afternoon, and I needed a break. I decided to go out to the gun range and take some practice shots for a while. I needed to keep my aim strong in case I had to pop a cap in some crazy person’s ass. I drove through McDonald’s for a Coke and headed for Shooter’s gun range. When I got there, I was happy to see that there was only one other person in the place. I grabbed some ammo and picked a lane. For the next couple of hours, I shot the hell out of a paper target. Finally, feeling satisfied that I had practiced enough, I stopped at the counter, paid for my time and headed back to the city.