The Case of the Crooked Ex: Chapter 8
The trip to the seedy side of town near the east river docks and the more crime riddled areas of town took me less time than I thought. The cabbie knew a few short cuts and that shaves some time off the trip. Like I told Sarah there really wasn’t much to worry about even down here. The sun was shining brightly and the air was warm despite the fresh snow, the thought that I was heading for trouble seemed like an absurd one even if was gut was screaming at me. I have the cabbie drop me off a block away from the corner and stand for a good minute or two just looking around.
There are some newer looking brick warehouses lining the far end of the block, some older apartment buildings on the far side of 73rd and a stray run down looking house here and there but nothing that shouted ambush. Still it gives me that uneasy feeling, Eddie hasn’t ever given me a reason to not trust him but snitches could be a squirrely bunch of lowlifes. Loyal to wherever the next payday was coming from. I had moved my gun from my shoulder holster to my coat pocket in the cab just in case and walking towards the street lamp on the corner I place my hand on it just for reassurance.
Eddie is waiting, the collar on his coat turned up to ward off the cold, he had been waiting outside for awhile that much was obvious, the burnt out butts of a dozen cigarettes gave me another clue that he was nervous about the meet. I grip the handle of my .45 tighter, this could get ugly fast.
“Jones, I’m glad you made it.” His eyes are all over the place looking past me, at me, down the road, off to the buildings on our side of the street. If he could manage it without looking more obvious I am sure he would be looking behind him.
“What’s going on Eddie?” I say in a low voice cursing myself out in my head knowing that I should have listened to Sarah and brought help, stupid Josh, really stupid.
“Sorry about this Jones, the questions you had me asking kicked up the wring kind of attention. I had no choice.”
At that moment a car pulls up next to us and the two guys that had been hiding in the shadow of one of the apartment’s stoops step behind me.
“Don’t worry about it Eddie, you have to look out for yourself, I understand.”
“Mr. Barron someone wants to talk to you.” Says the big blonde one, his partner seems like the muscle while he is the brains although that is a small distinction since they both look like they could kill a guy in less time than it takes to get a cup a joe at Johnny’s.
“Someone is talking to me right now; maybe you could come back later.”
“It wasn’t a request Mr. Barron.”
“What happens if I don’t want to have a talk with your mysterious friend, what then?”
“You seem like a reasonable fellow Mr. Barron but in that case I take that .45 your clutching out of your pocket and hit you with it, at which time I drag your ass into the car and we go to this meeting. Your choice though.”
I hate intelligent heavies they seem to be an contradiction in terms, some kind of social anomaly that I can’t reconcile. Heavies should be big and stupid, that is the reason they are heavies because they aren’t good for much else. These guys aren’t dumb and they weren’t playing games. I step over to the waiting car and climb in the back seat and lean against the far corner, any thoughts of escape are far from my immediate thought, besides my curiosity is getting the better of me.
“Take care Eddie, I am sure I’ll be seeing you around.”
“Don’t do anything stupid Jones.”
“Can’t make promises Eddie you know me.”
Blondie stuffs a small wad of bills in Eddie’s shirt pocket and then climbs in beside me. His partner slides into the front seat, no easy task given his size and close the door.
“You fellas going to take my gun now?”
“No. Mr. Barron there really isn’t any need. We don’t intend to harm you and I really don’t think you want a murder charge hanging over you. Beyond that my instructions are quite clear that I am not to inconvenience you in any way, well beyond what is necessary.”
“Well then let’s get this over with; I am sure your boss has more important things to do than worry about my convenience.”
We drive half a block down Lexington and pull into a nondescript looking warehouse. The inside was nearly empty and as I step from the car and let myself be led up a wooden staircase to a second floor office that looked over the large warehouse, I try to pick out details in the shadows surrounding me. Blondie directs me to an inner office past a nicely dressed middle aged secretary who smiles politely at me. That creeps me out just a little bit but my years of experience have taught me to keep that sort of thing from showing on my face.
“Have a seat Mr. Barron, he will be up shortly.”
“If you need anything, a soda, a snack maybe a cup of coffee, Nancy will be right outside the door to get it for you.”
He walks out without answering my question. The plot was definitely thickening and I sit down in a rather plush arm chair in front of a antique looking desk. The whole room is well organized but feels a bit cluttered for my taste. Too many filing cabinets and not enough windows, it gives me the feeling that I am in a bank or at my accountant’s office. I don’t wait long before the door opens and a aging older man sits down across from me.
“Good Afternoon Joshua, so good of you to stop by to meet with me. I take it you know who I am?”
Oh boy did I ever. Thaddeus Latham was one of the biggest crime bosses in the city and he was also the guy you wouldn’t think of as running the mob. When you think mob boss you think of large Italian men with slicked back hair and mustaches surrounding themselves with countless family members, fingers dripping with gold rings, or diamond topped walking sticks. Latham had none of that, for starters he was English, he looked more like a book keeper than a mob boss. His grey tweed suits, round glasses, and air of refined sensibility was something that most criminals didn’t expect which is why he was so successful no one expected him to be any good at being bad, he just looked like to nice and innocent of a guy. However whatever criminals thought he didn’t have the stones to run his territory did so at their own peril, Latham was as vicious as he was efficient. The cup of tea Nancy brought him didn’t fool me for a second, I know too much about him to be fooled into thinking the civilized exterior was the true man, plus he called me Joshua and I hate that.
“Got to tell you Thad, it wasn’t like I had much choice in the matter.”
“Well given your area of employment I thought it best if we held our meeting in shall we say a less public forum.”
“Yeah I would hate to have people thinking I was consorting with vicious mob types.”
“Quite the contrary Joshua I think consorting with my organization could do nothing but enhance your appeal around the city. However I do have a certain reputation and being seen with a fall down drunk who barely pays his bills could be viewed as somewhat beneath a citizen with my fine standing in our fair city.”
Oh he was a snobby gangster to boot, I was actually starting to like this guy. Not to much mind you he is still a killer and a crook but he was fun.
“Well you certainly have done your research Latham I will give you that, so what is it you want to talk about, surely not my standing in social circles?”
“It has come to my attention that you are seeking information on one Lee Stroble?”
“That’s right his ex-wife hired me because she thinks he is trying to kill her, even made an attempt on her outside my office earlier this morning.”
“Well that is perhaps somewhat incorrect information.”
“How is that Latham? Is Stroble one of your guys?”
“Oh please Joshua, don’t insult me that way, my organization would have nothing to do with a person of such low moral character as Stroble. He is a despicable example of human life and deserves whatever fate he gets which brings me to the point. He won’t receive that fate as long as Monroe owns him.”
“He is one of Monroe’s boys huh?” I let out a long low whistle. “Well that answers a few questions.”
“Yes it does doesn’t it? More importantly Joshua I am willing to provide you with the information you are looking for in return for certain considerations.”
“What type of considerations Latham?”
“Nothing really, you see when all is said and done this is going to be very embarrassing to our friend Monroe. I just ask that you let me know in advance before you act on the information I will provide.”
“What’s in this for you Latham?”
“Everything and … nothing”
Cryptic bastard, my heading was hurting from the alcohol last night and the excitement of the day. I was having trouble processing it all.
“I will have the information for you in two days Joshua. Do we have a deal?”
“I am not sure about this Latham. I still can’t figure your angle here.”
‘I would be surprised if you could Joshua, I really would so perhaps a good faith gesture. The attempt earlier today wasn’t Stroble’s doing. There will be another attempt tonight at a social function down town that your lady friend will be attending. My suggestion is not to let her out of your sight or we both lose.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Good day Joshua, I will have the information delivered to you in two days. Again I am sorry for any inconvenience.”
He turned his chair at that point and blondie steps back into the room and nods towards the open door.
“This way Mr. Barron I will see you get home.”
I am a bit off my game and so I don’t put up a fight. The entire drive back to the office is done in silence and I can’t help but think that something monumental just happened. I am not sure if this meeting makes me an accessory to a criminal act or just a bigger idiot but I am sure it can’t be good.
As the let me out blondie hands me an envelope, a heavy one at that.
“This is for your time and any inconvenience we may have caused. Mr. Latham also wanted me to inform you that your outstanding debits have been cleared, another good faith gesture he said.”
I look at the huge stack of bills in the envelope before looking at blondie
“I don’t take bribes bub, tell your boss I am not for sale.”
“No one said you were Mr. Barron and we would not be in business with you if you did. This is simply our standard consulting fee. I suggest you use it to get a new suit for tonight lest your client think you are a man of limited means. Good Day sir”
What could I say the whole meeting left me speechless? I just stand there and watch them drive off. No way people are that polite and civil when they work outside the law, it just aint natural.