I woke up a couple of hours later feeling like something the cat had dragged in. I took a sniff, and realised that if I looked under the sofa, I’d probably find something that the cat had dragged in. I left that pleasure for another day and walked over to see how the data was getting on. It was still churning, so I wandered into the broom cupboard that doubles as the office bathroom, splashed some water on my face and headed back out.
The rain that had set in while I’d been dozing had driven most people to seek cover and the lights that were just coming on in the early evening gloom painted pictures on the damp streets. I turned up my collar against the drizzle and mourned the loss of my hat as the the cold water ran down the back of my neck.
Every now and again someone would express surprise that I don’t own a car.
“What do I need a car for?” I’d say. “I live in the greatest city in the world, with the finest public transportation system known to man.” Right now though, I’d trade the subway two blocks away for a car on my doorstep.
Who am I kidding? Twenty four hours on my block and there’d be nothing but small pile of glass and an oil stain on the tarmac to remind me of why you don’t own a car in this neighbourhood.
I put my head down and walked on.
As I made my way on to the subway platform, the office workers finishing up for the day mingled with the people driven underground by the rain. They all steamed gently as they were pressed together in a moist bundle of humanity. The uptown train pulled in and I was dragged along as the crowd surged forward. I found myself next to a pretty young girl dressed in typical secretary / typing pool garb. I smiled a sorry-I’m pressed-up-against-you-but-what-can-you-do sort of smile. She started to smile back, but as the train jolted out of the station she was squashed against me a bit harder. Suddenly a look of disgust appeared on her face and she forced her way further down the car. I was baffled for second and then it clicked. I thought about calling after her “No - I wasn’t pleased to see you, there really is a gun in my pocket”, but thought better of it.
As I got off a couple of minutes later, I looked up and down the platform of the Eighteenth Street station, half expecting to see someone in a black trenchcoat watching me, but as the crowd thinned, there was no-one there. I headed for the exit.
I crossed the street, heading away from the subway and the Precinct, walked a block and turned down an alleyway between a hardware store and a deli. The neon sign that read “Mac’s Bar” cast a lurid glow that acted as a homing beacon for guys who couldn’t face going home without at least a couple of beers inside them. I shook the rain off as I stepped through the door and looked around as my eyes got accustomed to the light, or lack of it..
Plenty of people have tried to reinvent the bar. Themed bars, sports bars, Irish bars, bars with TV screens, gastropubs. Some work, most fail. It’s a fact of life that the best places - the places that keep going when all about them are closing down - stick to a simple formula. Dark wood, dim lighting, a decent selection of beer and spirits, bar staff who know the score in the game and more importantly, know exactly who ‘hasn’t been in all night’ if the phone should ring. A bowl of peanuts on the bar is about as adventurous as it should get. Mac’s stuck to the formula, and that’s why it was stll going strong after all these years.
As I eased onto a stool at the bar, Hal broke away from the patron he was talking to at the far end and came over, running a cloth along the bar top at the same time.
Hal had become the owner of Mac’s at about the same time as I’d started out on my own. He’d briefly considered calling it ‘Hal’s Bar’, but as he said, ‘Mac’s’ had been good enough for the previous three owners, so why change it now? Unlike many bar owners, the guy that Hal bought the place from had actually retired, rather than gone bust or been driven out of business by unsavoury elements. One of the advantages to owning a bar where half the patrons were Police. A steady stream of customers, and people don’t come in and cause trouble.
He put a cold beer down on the bar, and stopped for a chat. We chewed the fat for a while. The weather. How the Yankees had done this season.
“Seen Flint lately?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s been around the past week or so. If he’s coming in tonight, probably be in...” He looked at the clock. “Thirty minutes or so?”
I pushed the empty glass back across the bar.
“Better have another one then. One for yourself?”
“Don’t mind if I do.” grinned Hal, and lined me up with another beer.
Forty minutes and two more beers later and the bar was getting pretty crowded. The radio behind the bar was tuned to an old rock station and there was a good buzz about the place. I’d just caught up with a couple of guys from the station who’d come in for a drink before heading home when Flint walked in. He scanned the room from the doorway as he shook the rain off, and as I caught his eye I raised my glass in his direction.
He parked himself on the recently vacated stool next to me and caught the eye of the girl behind the bar. He’d taken a long, slow pull on his beer before he put the glass down and turned to me.
“Chuck. It’s been a while. How’s tricks?”
I shrugged. “So, so. You?”
“Been out of town for a while. Got back a couple of weeks ago. Just getting up to speed on things.”
"Got time for a chat?"
When Flint said getting up to speed on ‘things’, Flint meant ‘everything’. There was very little that went on, both above board and below, that Flint didn’t hear about, know about or could find out about. He was kinda like Nancy only he didn’t bother with the gossip pages and probably didn’t look so good in a tight blouse. Unlike Nancy though, Flint took a fairly relaxed view of the law. An honest, upstanding citizen might look at some of the information that crossed Flint’s path and take it straight to the Police. Flint was usually happy to make a mental note of it and let it go on its way, unhindered. In the information trading business there were very few second chances. You spilled something that was supposed to remain a secret, and chances are you wouldn’t be hearing much, if anything, ever again. Under the right circumstances however, and to a select few aquaintances - of which I counted myself one - Flint would drop the odd hint. He could be infuriating. He’d never come right out and tell you something, just give you cryptic clues.
“Means my conscience is reasonably clear.” he always said. “Somebody asks me if I talked about something I shouldn’t have, I can always say no.”
A booth suddenly became free as a couple picked up their coats and headed for the door. I grabbed both our drinks and grabbed it as Flint went to take a leak. While he was gone, I considered what to talk to him about. He could probably turn something up on the Lillywhite case - but the business for Russo? I figured I’d keep that one to myself for a while.
“So. Business or social?” said Flint, sitting down.
“Business.” I said and gave him the background on Chastity’s situation. “I’m doing some digging on the main parties at the moment, but if you hear anything...”
“I’ll bear it in mind.” said Flint, that being as definite an answer as I was likely to get from him.
We chatted for another couple of beers, at which point I signalled I was calling it a night. I’m very aware that while Flint can provide information, he also never stops collecting it, and I didn’t want to get so beer-happy that I mentioned something I’d rather keep quiet about.
I agreed to catch up with Flint the next afternoon and headed back out into the night, which by now, had turned filthy.
Even taking the subway back to the office, I looked like a drowned rat as I climbed the last flight of stairs to the third floor. Part way down the corridor, I stopped. Even with a beer buzz I was alert enough to sense that something wasn’t right. Moving slowly along the wall I drew up just short of my door.
No need to look for bits of paper on the floor. The splintered wood indicated that somebody had come calling while I was out.