Loyle grimaced at the thought of the small fortune he'd spent bribing people in his search for the torch singer in the picture he'd acquired at the wrecked pirate base. Every night, he'd been in a different club or speakeasy looking for her, buying round after round of rotgut. He felt no closer to finding her now than he had when he arrived in the Windy City.
Loyle knelt down next to the wall and pulled the heating grate free. After sliding the cigar box back into its hiding place, he quickly replaced the grating and made sure the screws were tightly in place.
He stood up and took his overcoat from the bed. Slipping it on, he patted his pockets to make sure he still had the photo of the girl and his pistol; they were right where they were supposed to be. Loyle belted the coat and walked over to the dresser where a half-empty bottle of bourbon and a glass sat waiting.
He poured himself a generous measure and knocked it back in one swig.
For luck, he thought.
He grabbed his fedora from the bed, switched off the light and locked the apartment door behind him.
"Here's fine, thanks driver," said Loyle, leaning forward towards the aerotaxi's pilot. He slid a five-dollar note through the slot as the autogyro landed softly in the middle of the street.
The driver turned to face him. "Thank you, sir" he said. A flash of recognition crossed his face. "Say, don't I know you from someplace?"
Loyle shook his head. "No. I get that a lot, though...I must have that kind of face. Good night." He stepped out of the cabin, ducking his head to avoid the rapidly spinning rotor blade. He closed the door and ran to the pavement, as the taxi leapt into the air again.
Loyle flipped his collar up against the cold wind that whistled down the street. He shoved his hands in his pockets and quickly walked the block and a half towards Finnegan's bar.
Pushing the door open, Loyle stepped through into the smoke filled room. The bar was crowded; most of the tables were already filled. Up on stage, the band was playing a slow, soulful ballad. The singer was an attractive redhead wearing an off-the-shoulder green evening dress.
Loyle slid into an unoccupied booth at the back where he could keep an eye on the singer. He laid his hat on the seat next to him.
A waitress appeared at Loyle's elbow. "Can I get you anything?" she purred.
Loyle looked up at her. Her big brown eyes glinted with a hint of mischief. "Not tonight, darling," he said. "Just a glass of cider."
She sighed. "Your loss, handsome," she said as she moved away to the bar.
Loyle looked around the bar. It was a rough looking crowd; most of the men were sporting the colors of several minor pirate gangs. I'll have to watch myself, thought Loyle.
The waitress came back with Loyle's drink. "Are you sure there's nothing more I can do for you?" she asked as she set the cider in front of him.
Loyle shook his head, sorely tempted despite his precarious situation. The waitress was a looker, that was for sure. "Sorry, sweetheart," he said. "Just the drink." He picked it up and took a sip. It wasn't the best cider Loyle had ever tried, but it was drinkable.
The waitress smiled back, her eyebrow arching. . "Like I said, your loss." She turned and started towards the next table.
Loyle gently grabbed her wrist. "Wait," he said, putting down his glass. "Maybe there is something you can do for me."
The waitress turned with an expectant look on her face. "There is, huh?" she said, the hint of mischief back in her voice.
Loyle fished the photo of the singer from his coat and showed it to the waitress. "Do you know this woman? Her name's Lily. She's an old sweetheart of mine and she ran away year or so back. I was stupid and let her go. But I've realized what a fool I was, so I've come looking for her. I want to propose to her."
"Oh, that's so sweet." She took the photograph and looked at it for a few seconds. "I wish I had some good news, fella, but I don't. I don't remember anyone called Lily singing in here. Sorry."
Loyle used the best pleading look he could muster, one he'd had a lot of time practicing over the last couple of weeks. "You're sure? Please have another look."
The girl studied the photo again. "Hey, wait a second. The drummer, I recognize him. His name's Ralph and he's a real sheik. I remember them playing here a couple of months back. Yeah, now I remember her. Her hair was shorter I think. But her name wasn't Lily; I think it was Marlene. She had a nice voice, all sultry and that. But they haven't been in here for a few months." She handed the picture back.
Loyle smiled up at her, slipping a five-dollar bill into her hand. "Thanks, doll, you've been a big help."
"Anytime, sweets," she said as she walked off to the next table.
Loyle looked around the room again; there was no one that he recognized. No point hanging around here any longer. He knocked back the rest of his cider, grabbed his hat and headed for the men's room.
He didn't see the man at the bar nod subtly at two other men, who got up from their table and followed him.
Loyle was washing his hands when the door opened and two men walked in. One had a jaw that looked like it had been carved from solid rock. The other was shorter, with a pencil-thin moustache and weaselly eyes that darted back and forth.
"Well, well, well," said the taller one, cracking his knuckles. "If it isn't the infamous 'Show-stopper' Crawford."
Loyle looked at them as he wiped his hands on a towel, feigning surprise. "Who, me? Sorry boys...you got the wrong guy." Crawford stepped forward, trying to casually move past the pair.
"Don't give us any of that bushwa, Crawford. You've got some brass coming to Chicago. There's a price on your head around here." The jaw cracked open into an evil grin. "One that I mean to collect." His partner's face also split into a malicious smile, like predators gleefully closing in for the kill.
Loyle realized there was no point in trying to prolong the charade. "What makes you think I'm just going to give up?"
The weasel pulled out a folding knife, the light glinting on the shiny inlay on the handle. The knife handle was decorated with an image of four aces...and a skull and crossbones on the Ace of Spades.
The pirateobviously well-acquainted with knife fightingflicked open the weapon with a practiced snap of his wrist. "Simple," he growled. "You come quietly, and no one gets hurt."
Loyle threw his head back and laughed.
"What's so funny?"
Crawford drew his pistol and pointed it at the two men, his face now deadly serious. "Didn't anyone ever tell you? 'A Smith & Wesson beats four aces.'" He motioned them away from the door with the gun. "Up against the wall."
He disarmed the weasel and quickly patted them both down. The taller one had a pair of handcuffs, which Loyle quickly pocketed.
"Your trousers. Take them off, both of you."
The weasel glanced around. "What?"
Loyle jammed the barrel of his pistol into the man's kidney. "Don't make me repeat myself. Take off your trousers and give them to me."
Both men quickly stripped off their trousers and handed them over. Crawford put them both in the toilet. That should stop you putting them back on in a hurry. He looked around the room quickly, spotting the column heater underneath the window.
"Right, you two, over here."
Loyle handcuffed the two men to the heater and headed for the door. He paused and looked back at the two thugs. "Guess I'll be seeing you."
Loyle slid the pistol back into his pocket and walked back out into the bar. If anything, it seemed noisier now the band had finished its set. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat and headed for the door.
A man in a dark suit got up from the bar and blocked Loyle's path. He had dark, beady eyes and a hawk-like nose. "Going someplace, Crawford?"
"Actually, I was just leaving," said Loyle.
"I don't think so," grunted the man, as his right fist slammed into Loyle's solar plexus, driving the wind out of him. "That's for shooting me down over the Appalachians a couple of months back, you bastard." His assailant's left hand lashed out, connecting with Loyle's chin and sending him sprawling backwards into a table laden with beer glasses.