Up on the Roof, Out on a Limb
I made my way down the hall and down seven flights of stairs to the double doors that opened to the street. The way I felt going down made me dread the thought of climbing back up. The elevator in the pile of bricks from which I do business works so seldom that even a fax dick with my taste for derring-do has to screw up a good measure of courage to step inside and press a button to a higher altitude. And all my courage is in a bottle in the top drawer of my desk.
Pushing open the doors and stepping onto the granite stairs I was greeted with the smell of hot grease from the hash joint across the street and warm urine from the hashed Joe sleeping one off on the bottom step. I held my breath and traipsed quietly past, careful not to wake him from his slumber. Joe was a frequent guest and I wanted to show him a little respect so he’d feel welcome. Some of the other tenants complain; they say Joe’s bad for business. But it’s a funny thing; when he’s curled up out front we never get solicitors or Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking. Besides, like I said before, my cases don’t come through the front door.
My cases come through the wire.
I’m a facsimile investigator. An FI. I find the scent of Benzaldehyde… wait. I think I already said that.
With the prospects of a long day on the trail I decided that starting with a plate of grub would be the right first step, and the hash joint across the street was a favorite first step of mine. Harvey worked the grill and grapevine with equal dexterity, so the beans are always hot and the tips hotter. And when Daphne’s behind the counter the service and conversation is always simmering. I stepped inside.
“Phile!” Harvey and Daphne called out in unison.
My lucky day.
“What’s the special today, kid?” I asked as I took my place atop a chrome and vinyl perch.
“Sugar, for you, it’s all on special,” Daphne said, leaning a little too far forward.
“That’s what I like about this place. The service is lousy, but it’s got a fantastic view.”
“Watch it, cowboy. When you insult the staff you’re likely to get an extra helping of mouse shit.”
“Well then; since the menu hasn’t changed, I’ll take the usual.”
“Burger and beans for our favorite gumshoe,” she called out to Harvey, who was already turning my patty over.
Ours was a well-practiced routine.
“What’s on the program today, Phile?” Harvey shouted over the grill’s snap and sizzle. “You on a case, or just being neighborly?”
“You know me, Harv. I’m always on a case. This one’s gonna require friends in high places.”
Harvey turned toward the grill and went silent, as if the world depended on him giving his total concentration to my burger. I could tell something was up, that his cage had been rattled. I didn’t want my burger well-done, so I changed the topic, pronto.
“Say, Daphne… what’s a guy gotta do to get a cup of coffee in this place?”
“In this place? All you gotta do is ask, sugar. Are you ever gonna ask?”
“I just might. How’re things with you and that palooka you’ve been seeing?”
“They ain’t,” Daphne said, filling my mug to the top. “He turned out to be a real crumb so I gave him the heave-ho.”
“Good for you. I didn’t like him. Didn’t think he was right for you. Not many are.”
“Aww, thanks, Phile. I wish you’d have said something.”
“It was none of my beeswax. He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“Nothing lost but a few good Saturday nights. How’s your coffee, sugar?”
“Lousy as always, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Harvey swung a plate with my burger and beans onto the service window and slapped the bell, and called out “order up” with all the enthusiasm of a kid grooming for his school picture. Daphne slid the plate under my chin.
“Enjoy, sugar. I’m here if you want me.”
My mouth was already full of bun and burger, so I winked and commenced with my mastication. I hadn’t gotten to forty chews before Harvey came around the corner and sat beside me.
“I might have something for you, Phile,” he mumbled so that only I could hear. There was no one else in the place. “If you’re really looking for friends in high places, that is.”
“Lay it on me, Harv. You know I never give up my sources.”
To be continued…