Rain ran down the window like water in a car wash. I was sitting at my desk in the gloom, working my way through a deck of Luckies. The door to the office opened and my brother walked in.
“What do you want?” I said.
He gave me the big phony grin.
“I’ve got a job for you,” he said.
“In a pig’s eye.”
My brother is family. He’s blood of my blood. He’s a good-looking guy with a cesspool for a brain. I promised our mother I’d look after him. I promised her I’d straighten him out. I lied.
“Beat it,” I said.
“Why are you sitting in the dark,” he said, flipping the light switch by the door.
The sudden glare made his blond hair gleam. Blond, as in phony, like the rest of him.
It was a gray afternoon. Wind gusted against the window, making the rain peck at the glass. I sucked on my cigarette, drawing the burning tip down to my fingers with a hiss. The smoke torched my throat on its way into my lungs.
“Look,” my brother said. “I know you want me around here like a tick on the lip. But you’re not doing jack. You need a payday and I’ve got one for you.”
“Whatever you’ve got, I’d rather not catch. Scram.”
“Listen. There’s a rich guy over in Greencrest, thinks his wife is cheating on him. He’ll pay good for proof. Like a bounty. Go trail her around, get a line on her lover. Collect your money. It’s a cinch. It’s what you do. Snoop. You and me, we’re on the outs. This is my present to you. To make up.”
I pulled open the bottom drawer and brought out two glasses and a bottle. Poured a slug into each glass and pushed one toward him. We knocked them back and I refilled them. He dropped a piece of notepaper on my desk.
“The guy’s address,” he said. “Stake it out and pick up the wife there. You can’t miss her. She’s the real thing.”
“I’d want to meet the husband.”
“No, it won’t work like that. Get some results first. He don’t want his wife spotting some shamus in the house. Bring him some pics. He don’t even need a name, just so long as he knows for sure she’s cheating. This guy is loaded. You’ll be well rewarded, believe me.”
“He’ll settle for a picture of the guy? That’s it?”
“So long as his wife is under the guy, yeah.”
“All right. I’ll let you know. Now get lost.”
He knew I’d do it, because of my promise to Ma. And because I was dead broke.
“Turn out the light,” I said as he opened the door to leave. He left it on.
I sat and watched God’s waterworks and waited for the hate to die down inside me. Then I got tired of waiting, so I pulled on my trench coat, slapped on my hat, and headed down to collect my heap.
The street lights were on, their yellow light captured by the streaming gutters. The sun was up there above the clouds somewhere, but nobody in this city was going to see it for a while.
I drove over the bridge to Greencrest, where the rich were so rich they didn’t bother with gates or walls. Their wealth protected them by turning the rest of us into working slobs. I parked down the curving street from the cuckold’s address. No worries about anyone bothering me with their curiosity in this storm. I killed the engine. Slit the cellophane on a new pack of Luckies with my fingernail. Tore the pack open and tapped out the first coffin nail. Settled back to smoke and watch.
I thought more about my brother than the stakeout. If he was involved, there was something queering the deal. Maybe he was just after a percentage. There had to be an angle. He hung around money and women like a pervert at the playground.
Hours passed. In my experience, cheating wives wait for the rain to let up before stepping out on their men. They don’t want their makeup smudged by anything but their fake tears. I gave it up as a bad job and drove back to the city and the dump I called home. I shucked off my suit, took off my gun, and slumped into the old easy chair in the corner to spend the evening with a bottle of my favorite relative and a fresh deck of smokes. Water rattled in the down spouts. Wind blew between the buildings, making a peculiar whistle in the holes where mortar was missing between the bricks.
Thoughts chased around my skull like rats. I paid attention for a while, looking for those worth considering. There weren’t any. Too many memories. Too many regrets. No hopes. No future. Eventually, Old Grand-Dad put them all to sleep.
The sun found me in the chair. It shone in through clouds like wet toilet paper. I ate a plate of breakfast at the greasy spoon downstairs and hit the bar across the street. Nobody had heard anything about a guy paying a bounty for dirty pictures of his wife. A morning drunk offered a couple of bucks to see them.
I drove back out to Greencrest and took up my position. I had a thermos of black coffee to keep my cigarettes company this time. It was dry enough for baseball, but I switched over to music after a couple of innings. A couple of songs and I turned off the radio. Songs didn’t fit my mood.
I was almost through a fresh pack and the afternoon was aging when a red Lamborghini pulled out of the driveway up ahead and turned my way. I could see the driver for a moment and then the car passed me with an arrogant growl and a hiss of tires on wet asphalt. A blond with a smile like a snake watching a mouse held the wheel in both hands.
Following her back to the city, I pulled up next to her once at a light. Took a second look. No man would care whether her hair was phony blond or not. She had the face of an angel, probably fallen.
She left the car with a valet at the Stratford Hotel, so I did the same. I followed her into the bar and watched her share a drink with a guy. They waltzed arm-in-arm over to an elevator and rode it up to the twenty-fifth floor. She had a body that was built to keep a guy busy long after she was ready to go take a shower. A hundred at the desk got me their room number. Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
An hour later, they emerged from the elevator looking satisfied. I got a couple of snaps as they left through the lobby.
“You’ll need more than that,” my brother told me the next day. “You got to show hubby the real deal.”
It cost me five hundred to the hotel dick to call me the next time the couple checked in. The dick escorted me up and unlocked the door. I stepped in and got a full set of snaps. The couple didn’t notice me at first, which helped. I wouldn’t have noticed me either.
If I was broke before, I was broker now. I called my brother and told him I was heading over to hubby to present my pics and the bill.
An evil-looking yellow moon hung behind ragged clouds in the east. The temperature had dropped and my cigarette was the only warm thing in the car. At the cuckold’s gate, I spoke into the squawk box.
“I’m here about the missus fooling around,” I said.
The gate swung open.
I drove up a circular drive through a forest of pine trees. I stopped in front in front of the mansion, killed the engine, and climbed the stairs to the front door. It stood ajar.
I stepped inside. The lights were dimmed everywhere but in a room on the right. An office or library. I went in, doffing my hat and sliding my coat off, one arm at a time. An old bird with white hair stood behind a large mahogany desk at the far end of the room.
“You’re here about my wife?” he said. His voice quavered, whether with rage or age, I couldn’t tell. His face turned red as we looked each other over.
“That’s right,” I said.
“You expect money?”
“You said it.”
He produced a gun and pointed it at me. Looked like a .25.
“What’s that for?” I said.
“That’s to kill you with,” the geezer said, coming out from behind the desk. “You think I’ll just pay you to go away? To get away with it?”
“Hold on, partner,” I said, but I could see that he wasn’t going to hold on. He didn’t know guns but if I let him, he might kill me in spite of himself.
I didn’t want to do it, but I pulled out my .38 and shot him in the heart. Self defense. It meant I wasn’t going to get paid. I put my gun away.
The blond wife slid into the room from a door on my right. She glanced at me and then walked over to the corpse and picked up the .25. She stepped over the body and centered the gun on my chest. No protection there but a couple layers of cotton and wool.
“Nice work,” she said.
“What is this?”
“I needed someone to kill my husband,” she said. “Thanks. Unfortunately, it appears that he killed you too.”
Her husband hadn’t known his way around the piece he pulled, but this babe did. I wasn’t going to be shooting her in that chest just behind her gun. Quite the opposite. I caught motion out of the corner of my eye.
My brother stepped into the room through the same door. He was grinning.
“Nice, huh?” he said. “She inherits it all and you get the blame for the shootout with Pops here. I told him you were the lover and you were coming over for a payoff to get out of town.”
“The guy in the hotel room?”
“Just some yegg we hired. She enjoyed him.” He nodded at the blonde, the grin now a smirk.
“You think she’ll let you stick around?” I said. “Now that you’ve served your purpose?”
The smirk stayed in place.
“Sure,” he said. “She loves me.”
Dead on a lousy winter day, shot by a lady’s gun, if not by a lady. My only consolation was a hunch that my brother would be joining me soon.