Detective Mike Travis was lost in a foggy darkness…his head throbbed. He knew he had been walloped over the head, but was stuck in some dark chaotic nightmare. Then he was suddenly fully awake…or maybe not.
The man smiled as he stared lazily out the window of his office into the picturesque neighborhood. The leaves had changed from their green summer outfits to the fiery reds, yellows and oranges of their autumnal wardrobes. He had the life. He focused on nothing in particular as he thought about his stroke of luck.
Bryant Devlin had it all. He was handsome: fair-haired, blue-eyed and had a gleaming smile which would put anyone at ease. He was of average height and well-built, but slightly on the slender side of average. He was still young and owned his own business, which, while not making him wealthy, let him live well. Granted, he never would have desired to own his own funeral parlor; he fell into it – more or less. There was nothing in Bryant Devlin’s life he could complain about. Well, there was one little, minor thing…he wasn’t the real Bryant Devlin.
If an observer walked out of Devlin’s office, down a small corridor, through a large viewing room, past a small yet efficient kitchenette, down a flight of stairs into the storage area, that observer would find the real Bryant Devlin at work. The large man would inevitably be preparing a corpse for viewing by the recently deceased’s family and friends.
The real Bryant Devlin smirked down at the corpse, which was utterly indifferent toward Devlin. Something still wasn’t quite right; something was off, but he couldn’t place it. He liked for each body to appear perfect for the viewing. Personally, he didn’t care about the family’s feelings or grief and he didn’t care about the body itself. He was a perfectionist. A perfectionist in everything he did. Everything.
He stepped back, retrieved a cigarette from a crumpled pack nearby and struck a match to it. The smoke caused him to briefly squint as he shook out the flame and inhaled deeply. He stared curiously at the old man on the table before him as he smoked his cigarette.
The real Bryant Devlin was nearly the complete opposite of the Bryant Devlin in the upstairs office, in every way. The real Bryant Devlin was shorter than average height, stocky and built like a brick-wall…only uglier. His dark eyes, very nearly black observed everything and had often been described as dead eyes. He kept his dark brown hair trimmed short, which he cut himself. He stamped out his cigarette in a glass ashtray near the dead man’s head. He noticed how the ashtray and several extinguished cigarettes created the look of a large, squashed spider.
He checked his strap watch for the time. He never lost track of time and already knew what time it was. It paid to double-check. He removed his white apron and hung it in its place – a hook near the door. He rolled down his shirt sleeves and retrieved his hat and coat, which always hung on a hook beside his apron. A place for everything.
He locked the door behind him, walked up the stairs, past a small yet efficient kitchenette, through the large viewing room, down a small corridor, past the office of the other Bryant Devlin, into a foyer where he grabbed his overcoat, and out the front door of the Devlin Funeral Parlor. The afternoon was brisk, but sunny. Devlin found the day pleasant. He liked the cold weather and the sunshine. He thrust his hands into his overcoat pockets and began walking up the street. He turned at every corner, creating a zig-zag trail. He made several stops on his stroll: He bought cigarettes and a newspaper at a newsstand; he window shopped at a high-end men’s clothing shop; he had coffee and pretended to read his newly acquired afternoon edition of the City Star. All these stops were insignificant, but they told Bryant Devlin he wasn’t being shadowed. After paying the nickel for his coffee, he walked in a straight shot, avoiding his zig-zag method from earlier. After a quick-paced three-mile walk, he arrived at his destination at precisely two fifty-five in the afternoon. He waited, pretending to window-shop for watches at an abandoned watchmaker’s shop, until a man exited the building next to the window that seemed to preoccupy Devlin.
Bryant Devlin did not know this man, but he had learned his schedule and routine. He had worked it out over the past two weeks, while observing from a safe distance. The man walked by Devlin with no signs of recognition. Why would there be? Neither man knew the other and Devlin was that good at his job.
Devlin followed the man after a few moments so as to not draw attention. He kept his distance, but kept his ever-observant eyes on the man. He knew the man would turn left down an alley as a shortcut to get over to the next block.
Devlin was right. The man turned and Devlin sped his gait once the man was in the alley. The man leisurely strolled down the alley, unaware Bryant Devlin was gaining ground on him. There was a loud POP and the man fell face forward. Devlin dropped the small twenty-two he had just used to murder the man and kept walking, as if nothing had happened. He walked all the way back to Devlin Funeral Parlor and went back to work on the corpse he had left earlier. He did not know the man he had just killed, but he had been paid two bills to do it.
“Detective Mike Travis, Homicide Bureau.” The young detective mumbled as he flashed his credentials to the uniformed beat officer at the head of the alley. He wondered if he had looked that young when he had started out on patrol. He still hadn’t gotten used to his new job title. Detective, mere weeks and his first case as lead detective. He made his way down the alley, slowly, carefully observing everything as he worked his way to the body. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary – except the dead body sprawled face-down on the pavement. The detective arrived at the body and briefly hovered over it, making mental notes of its position and the proximity of the twenty-two. He nodded an acknowledgment to his partner and the city coroner, who were in quiet conversation a few yards further away.
His partner, Stanley Winslop was a twenty-year man of the homicide bureau. He had seen it all and this left him callous and jaded in his views concerning human nature. He was out of shape, with bad knees and a worse back. Travis also noticed the old man’s eyes were going on him, but Mike let it go. The man was ripe for a desk job until his pension came in, but his experience and knowledge were invaluable to both Travis and the department. This allowed the captain to look the other way and let Winslop stay on the street. The city coroner, on the hand, was rail thin and fidgety as all get out. The man’s nervous ticks made everyone else jumpy. The two men were in a serious discussion of some nature; a conversation Travis did not want to interrupt.
The detective knew they wouldn’t be able to positively identify the body, due to the complications brought on by the man having an exit wound in the middle of his face. The cause of death was clearly a single gunshot wound to the back of the man’s head at close range.
The coroner and Winslop had finished their conversation and Winslop returned to the body. Travis stood from his crouch and waited. Winslop held a wallet in his hand – the dead man’s wallet.
“Bastard coroner owes me a c-note and he’s tryin’ to welch.” Winslop muttered to his partner.
“What this time? Ponies?” Travis responded, not really interested in the answer. His mind was recreating the various ways the crime may have occurred.
“What else is left for a man to throw green down on? Certainly, not pugs. Gangs got all those boys under thumb. All them is crooked as hell.” Winslop answered.
Winslop, the senior detective of the two, then began to fill Travis in, “We got a call from a li’l old biddie in one of the pads facing the alley. She reported a gunshot at three or three-fifteen this afternoon. A beat walker was sent to check it out and found Mr. Chuck Faber, as you see him now. At first, the boy thought he was a drunk sleeping one off in the alley, but the large bullet hole and river of blood made him rethink his original hypothesis. Then, he noticed the twenty-two near the body. That boy’s got future detective written all over him.”
Travis smirked at his partner’s off-kilter sense of humor, “Are officers bangin’ on doors for potential witnesses yet?”
“Yeah, but so far, no go.”
“You got an address? We can hit his place if you do.”
“Yeah, just a few blocks away. This time, you get to tell wifey.” Winslop stated in his usual callous way.
“No wedding band.” Travis mentioned as he walked away.
Winslop was momentarily stunned, “Hmmm…didn’t even notice.”
The two detectives walked the three blocks to the victim’s rooming house; neither uttered a word. Each man’s eyes darted from building to building; from pedestrian to pedestrian; from automobile to automobile – observing the workings of the neighborhood. Each man quickly formulating opinions and theories concerning the case.
The building itself was a five-story job. The two men walked down the side alley first, making note of the fire escape, which was littered with air-drying laundry from every apartment which had access. They then walked back to the front of the building.
Travis broke the silence that had ensued since they had left the crime scene together. “We’ve got his keys, let’s bypass the super for the time being and let ourselves into his pad. I want to get an unbiased opinion of this guy.”
Winslop grunted quietly, which Travis knew from experience meant the old detective agreed. They avoided the elevator in favor of the stairs. By the third floor, Winslop was winded and cursing himself and Travis for going along with this plan. The climb took longer than Travis had wanted, considering he had to stop to wait for his fat partner on two occasions.
They hit the fourth floor, service revolvers drawn. Both men had through this scenario countless times, but only twice together. Winslop had been shot at three times over his long career, and had never been hit. Travis hadn’t been as lucky. He had been severely wounded by a vicious killer during his patrol days on the street.
They each took up position on either side of the door to the apartment. Travis waited for his partner to catch his breath. He used the time to listen for noise from within the room. The beating of his own heart in his ears drowned out any potential sounds that may have been coming from behind the door.
Once the fat man was ready, he nodded to Travis. Travis carefully slipped the key into the lock and turned it until he felt the bolt pull back. He gripped the knob and turned painfully slowly until the door gave. He pushed it open and waited.
After several seconds, nothing had happened, Winslop slid into the apartment with surprising stealth for a man of his size; Travis was close behind. The pad was one of those one room places that littered the city. Each floor had a communal washroom at the end of the hall. The room itself had a murphy bed, raised into the wall and some cheap, yet well-maintained furniture. The kitchenette occupied the far wall and had some worn-down but functional appliances. It was far from a rich man’s home, but it was a home, nonetheless. More of a home than many people had, Travis thought as he headed for the closet.
Inside the closet: three suits (black, brown, gray), two shirts (both white), two neckties (black, red), and a pair of shoes (brown). Travis searched the pockets of the suit coats and trousers – empty.
Winslop was searching through the deceased’s mail, which rested unopened, on a small table. He found correspondence from several individuals, a bill from a cheap, yet reputable tailor, and an official letter from Millstone Men’s Penitentiary. He tore open the letter from the prison and discovered the victim had been a guest of said facility.
“Mike, looks like we got us a con.”
“What was he in for?” Travis asked as he moved to search the cupboards in the kitchenette.
“Did three of a nickel for armed robbery.”
Mike paused for a moment, “Maybe an ex-partner or one of his victims settling a score? We’ll have to dig up the case file when we get back to the bureau.”
“Yup, no honor among thieves. I always say; if you got a dead thief, his thievin’ pals done the deed. You get anything?”
“I’m coming up zeroes. Let’s hit the super.”
“This time, we take the elevator car down. I ain’t doing the stairs again.” Winslop ordered.
Travis laughed as they left the man’s room, locking the door behind them. In their good humor, both men failed to notice the man hidden in the shadows. He removed his thick lensed spectacles and wiped them with a clean white handkerchief, before replacing them on his face.
The building’s superintendant answered the door only after detective Travis yelled, “Metropolitan Police Department,” through the door. The slovenly dressed man had been quite content to let the police knock away until they got bored and gave up. Once he knew it was the coppers, he smelled trouble and got to the door quicker than a man of his sizeable girth ought to have been able.
“Sorry, officers. Thought it was one of those miserable tenants wantin’ to complain ‘bout somethin’ or other.”
Neither Travis nor Winslop were happy to have been made to wait, but they needed this man’s cooperation for the time being.
“We need to know anything about Charles Faber you can tell us.” Travis said, astutely hiding his current displeasure.
The man blinked several times, not unlike a lizard, before answering, “Who?”
Winslop was not so adept at hiding his displeasure, “Four-B.” He said sternly.
“Oh, four-B.” The slimy man said, breaking into a huge smile. Travis noticed the poor dental work and rolled his eyes.
The super, either didn’t notice Travis’ reaction or chose to ignore it and continued, “Not much to say. Paid on time, kept to himself, mostly. He travelled a lot, so sometimes he’d be gone for days or a week.”
“Do you know what he did for scratch?” Winslop asked.
“Salesman is what he told me, but I didn’t buy that line.”
“Like I says, he travelled a lot, like a salesman would, but he never had no samples or cases or nothin’. Salesman, my eye. It didn’t matter none, so long as he paid on time and he never missed a payment…usually paid in advance to boot.”
“Did he have any friends or guests you know of?” Travis asked.
“Nah, never had no one over here. Why would he…have you seen the joint?”
Travis begrudgingly thanked the man for his time and tried to fit the new information into the facts they already had. It helped, but not as much as he had hoped. An ex-con disappearing for days on end, turns up dead a few blocks from his room. He was up to something no good and now they needed to find out what that was. A canvas of the neighbors in the building turned up no new information, either. No one in the place seemed to know the man, other than passing pleasantries in the hallway.
The next stop would be the precinct. They could dig up his criminal history and known accomplices without much difficulty. These are where the real leads would be found. Winslop was positive they would find the murderer among his cohorts and figured they’d have the case wrapped up by the next day. Optimist. Travis wasn’t so sure…
The real Bryant Devlin knew the Metros had found the body of his latest victim and now listened for news on the wireless. He was right; the body had been discovered, but there was little in the way of facts. He had left no evidence or clues; there were no witnesses, either. He was perfect – yet again. He switched off the wireless and left the parlor for the afternoon.
The day had cooled considerably since he had accomplished his job. It felt like rain to the real Bryant Devlin. He chose to retrieve his umbrella from the funeral parlor before starting for home. It never hurt to be prepared. The other Bryant Devlin had already left for the evening, so the real Bryant Devlin turned out all the lights and double-checked both entrances were locked.
Once outside, he shoved his huge hands into his overcoat pockets, the umbrella hook rested in the crook of one of his arms. He started the mile-long trek home. Twenty minutes – that’s how long it took, every day. Twenty minute miles were the perfect pace to not draw attention to oneself.
His most recent hit made him reminisce about his very first job. A botched job. A sideways, crooked mess of a job. He had been sent by his boss to off a pimp who had begun refusing to pay for permission to run girls. After a few threats failed to produce the desired result, Bryant Devlin was sent to deal with the crum. He wasn’t Bryant Devlin then; he had a different name. He put four slugs into the pimp, but the bastard refused to kick. When he went to put one in the brain, he had heard a noise. He mucked up and forgot to check the pad for witnesses. One of the pimp’s girls was cowering in the washroom and knocked over a glass. He figured he was safe, because the pimp routinely smacked the girls around…she wouldn’t grass on him for killing her tormentor. He let her live and in his panic, he never finished the job. The pimp miraculously survived and the girl fingered his would-be assassin. He had to bolt Denver now that both his boss and the pimp were out for his blood. From that point on it was no witnesses – ever.
He had been able to find work wherever he went. Each new town would have rival criminal elements with a need for his now-honed skills. He’d take out one gang’s leadership for a large fee and move on before all Hell broke loose. He had two rules: 1. The target must deserve what he gets, and 2. No witnesses. Even innocent bystanders had to go. He wasn’t going to fry. He’d never ever broken the first rule, but he had broken the second rule twice. The first time was letting the prosty live, causing him endless trouble in Denver. The second time was Kansas City and saddled him with the other Bryant Devlin.
Kansas City: three years prior. The real Bryant Devlin had just taken out a mob boss and was now collecting the other half of his fee. This employer asked him to take out an extra person on his way out of town – payment in advance. Devlin agreed. He could have easily skipped town with the cash if he didn’t like the layout.
Turned out the kid had conned the mob boss’ mistress out of two-hundred dollars on an insurance grift, without realizing who his mark shared a bed with. Devlin was paid handsomely to hit a kid over two-hundred measly bucks. Mob guys had weird principles. Devlin realized that hitting the kid broke rule number one. This kid deserved a beating for being stupid, not lose his life for it.
Instead, Devlin, broke into the grifter’s room and waited, gun drawn, in the dark for him to return. The kid froze upon seeing the gun and let out a large breath of air. To the kid’s credit, he didn’t beg or plead for his life…he had accepted his fate – the grifter’s fate. Devlin informed the kid of who had hired him and why. They both knew the kid had to disappear because the goon would never stop looking.
They devised a plan. To keep the mob off both their backs, the kid had to die. Devlin found a stand-in for the kid, quite deserving, but very unwilling. The kid drove his brand-new Ace automobile to an abandoned factory outside the city. The real Bryant Devlin shed the fake name he had been using. He never told anyone where he obtained the body to be burned alive in the new car. The kid never asked. Devlin never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it and he set the Ace on fire.
The two, then skipped in Devlin’s Standard Steamer. They drove all night and arrived in the city at dawn. After bribing a few lowly clerks for ident papers, the kid became Bryant Devlin and the real Bryant Devlin ceased to exist, officially. The two bought a rundown mortuary, because no one looks too closely at funeral parlors, using Devlin’s hit money. The two opened for business, with every intention of going clean. That’s when a mysterious new employer arrived in a very unusual fashion…
The real Bryant Devlin arrived on his stoop and shaken out of his reverie by an age-yellowed envelope. This would be his sixth in three years. Never had one followed another so closely. Devlin bent to pick up the envelope. He knew what would be inside: a yellowed sheet of paper with a typewritten name. Nothing else would be on the paper. The envelope would also contain a key to a train station locker. In that locker, would be one-thousand dollars in Civil War era gold coin. He found it odd being paid in sixty-year old currency, but money was money and gold was harder to trace than new bills. Devlin couldn’t remember what made him take that first contract. It was almost as if he were compelled to do it. It didn’t matter anymore. He knew it wasn’t a frame-up and he knew the money was right.
He checked the envelope for the name: Xiang Wen. With that name, he knew he was heading to Chinatown. He’d have to ring the other Bryant Devlin to let him know he’d have to handle the Pryor funeral in the morning, on his own. The other Bryant Devlin knew of the mysterious benefactor and merely shrugged it off, as he did most things not involving women, clothes or automobiles.
Detectives Travis and Winslop had struck out on the accomplice angle. All his known associates were dead or in prison. Travis noted an improbable number of his associates had died recently, mostly murdered with little to no evidence. Winslop was crestfallen, he would have bet his house on the lead. He would have lost. It had been two days since the murder of Charles Faber and Travis now thought they were further away from the killer than ever.
He leaned back in his chair at his desk, tuned out Winslop’s ranting, and lost himself in the case. Something hadn’t sat quite right with him at the crime scene but he couldn’t place his finger on it. He put the crime scene out of his mind for the moment and began thinking about the reasons to murder a man. The main reasons for murder were money, sex, revenge and to conceal a crime. They had ruled out any known associates; there was no wife and didn’t seem to be any dames around. Travis didn’t know of any recently committed crimes that needed to be covered up. That left revenge. The man had been in stir for the last three years, who could have wanted revenge bad enough to kill a man after three years in prison and a couple of months on the street? This case was starting to make Travis’ head ache.
He reached for the partially filled bottle of bourbon from his desk and got two glasses to join it. He knew Winslop was always game for a belt. Travis chuckled as he waited for Winslop, who was still on his tirade to notice the drink.
“What are you laughin’ at?” Winslop asked.
Travis downed his drink, “What if it’s the same guy?”
Winslop looked perplexed, “Who’s the same guy?”
“What if the guy who plugged Faber also took out his four buddies?” Travis thought out loud.
“Hmmm…” Winslop started following the younger detective’s train of thought, “Could be. It could be a coincidence. Career criminals don’t usually make it to retirement. This is how they usually end their days, but it still is possible…”
“Five murders over two years, with no evidence…I think we have a pro in town.” Travis confessed.
Winslop suddenly smiled, “If we do and we can catch him, it means we will have instantly cleared five cases! Pass that bottle here…”
Chinatown was awash in bustling activity. Street vendors occupied every free inch of space. Citizens and vendors haggled for goods in a language completely foreign to the white stranger. This section of the city was home to thousands of Chinese who still fully embraced the culture, music, traditions, and religion of their homeland. Most were descendants of immigrants brought over to construct the western railroads. The real Bryant Devlin had an uncanny ability to blend in to almost any situation – this was not such a situation. Devlin stuck out like a sore thumb and he knew it. This was a nearly impossible task. Not only didn’t he fit in, but the residents were an insular society. He had no idea how he was going to find Xiang Wen. He didn’t speak, or read the language. It was a completely foreign world to Devlin. Even the smells were foreign to him. Food aromas and incense continually invaded his nostrils as he wandered the streets.
White men were rare in Chinatown, but not completely out of place. Some came to the opium dens, which operated free of police interference. He didn’t think he fit the image of an opium fiend, but no one really paid him much attention as he wandered about. After several days of searching for the elusive Xiang Wen, the real Bryant Devlin stumbled into a bit of good fortune. He happened by an herbalist shop, one of the few with English writing on the shop window. Wen’s name was written under what Devlin assumed was the Chinese spelling of the name. Could Devlin be so lucky to have Wen the herbalist be the Wen he was in search of?
He watched the shop until he was sure the old man was Xiang Wen. Once he was positive they were one-in-the-same, he knew he had to get out of town. The man he was sent to kill was a kindly old Chinese doctor. He helped the sick and poor of the community and asked for nothing in return. Why would his mysterious benefactor want this man dead? What was the angle? This violated Devlin’s rule; he wouldn’t kill this man.
He made up his mind to tell the other Bryant Devlin to shut up the parlor and blow town. They needed to split up, change identities and start over somewhere else. The real Bryant Devlin had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that his benefactor wasn’t going to accept ‘no’ for an answer on this job. He left Chinatown just as another rain shower hit. The street vendors all quickly and efficiently packed up their wares and headed for cover.
The room was completely dark when he regained consciousness. He sat motionless, listening for any sounds. He was alive – at least that was something. He was fairly certain he was alone and he wasn’t bound. His head throbbed to no end. It took several minutes for him to stand. He grew dizzy and fell back to the floor on his first attempt. He felt the knot on the back of his head and winced. He then knew he had been out for some time; the blood on his neck from his newly acquired wound had begun to dry. It was tacky to his touch. He breathed in the smell of the now familiar perfume, only now it was much more faint. Dames.
He walked unsteadily over to a lamp, switched it on, and sat down in one of his chairs. Knocked senseless in his own place, what a sucker. He scanned the small apartment from his perch; nothing seemed missing and the place wasn’t tossed. What was she after?
His hand jerked to his coat pocket. Empty. The journal was gone. Why would someone leave the thing behind in an empty apartment, only to risk getting caught in a detective’s home to get it back? The only answer that made sense to the detective was the woman who had smacked him and took the book was not the person who left it in the apartment in the first place.
At least he would be able to get the copy back from Charles. He wouldn’t be able to compare handwriting to any samples he might find, but that would more than likely prove fruitless anyway. He still had the contents, encoded as they may be. He fixed himself a whiskey and sat down. He replayed the day’s events in his mind to see if anything would jog loose – no go. He was sure he hadn’t been followed out to the sanitarium, so he was sure Charles was safe. No one, but him knew there was a duplicate book in existence. While he was knocked loopy, why had he dreamed of an old case? What was his subconscious trying to tell him? Had he missed a clue? Now, he needed a stiff drink and sleep. He would start fresh in the morning.
Now that his family was safe, Ostap could relax. He occasionally missed he fame fighting had brought him; tending bar and cleaning up at the Elysium was not his dream occupation, but he considered it a fair trade – more than fair. Sometimes, someone would recognize him on the street, ask for an autograph and ask him what happened to cause his sudden retirement at the top of his game – but they were becoming fewer and fewer. Nobody ever recognized him at the Elysium.
He knew the Elysium was a hub of shady dealings and mysterious goings on, but he kept to himself and did his job without complaining. After all, how could he complain? The Augury had given him the only which mattered – his family back and safe.
He poured drinks, listened to music, and occasionally broke up fights. Most gathered their wits and stopped voluntarily once they saw Ostap Rodchenko heading toward them, although sometimes, he’d have to square up with some crum full of bourbon. He always made sure to put the kid out of commission without hurting him too badly.
Isaac Midnight and the New Moons were on stage. Of the two bands that played regularly at the Elysium, Ostap preferred Isaac’s group. He liked singing; Jake’s band had no singer. Jake had been in earlier, only Isaac said he wasn’t Jake. The ex-pug just shrugged and continued to do his job. It was getting late and people were dancing much more than they were drinking, so Ostap could relax a bit and watch the show on stage. He had a good view from his position behind the bar. He’d have to mix the odd drink, but nothing like earlier in the night.
Just as Isaac and his band were wrapping up their set on stage, Ostap noticed a man stumble into the bar. His clothes were nicely tailored, but unkempt. His tie was loosened around his neck; the top two buttons of his shirt were undone, revealing his undershirt. He pushed his way to the bar, slamming his fist down on the hard wood bar to get Ostap’s attention, which he already had, but did not notice in his current state.
“I’m looking for Emma McCarty,” he said, overly accenting the syllables as only an inebriated fellow could.
“I don’t know who that is, sir.” Ostap responded, in his thick Ukrainian accent.
“Pretty girl. Wholesome, ya know?”
Ostap squinted as he looked at the man, “Does this look like the place for a wholesome girl? Look around.”
The man seemed taken aback momentarily and then turned to look around the bar, nearly falling to the floor as he did so. After several moments, he returned his attention to Ostap.
“I s’pose you’re right,” he finally concluded, “Whiskey – double.”
Against his better judgement, Ostap poured the man a drink. The patron nodded and downed the drink with alarming speed.
“Do you know who I am?” The man asked.
“No sir…sorry, sir.”
“I am Jackson Cooper, award-winning journalist. I’m here on official business. I’m writing a story.”
“A story about the Elysium?” Ostap asked in disbelief.
“No, no…at least I don’t think so. Who’d read a story about this dive?”
Ostap was suddenly relieved, “Good point, sir.”
“She’s not here, so I should be going. I’ve got to find her. I do the dangerous legwork, understand?”
Ostap didn’t understand, but agreed with him anyway, “Yes, sir. Good luck finding the young woman.”
The man nodded in agreement with himself, paid for his drink, left a healthy tip, and made for the door. He was unable to hide the advanced degree of his drunkenness from the other patrons. They all made room for him to pass unhindered. He tried to push the door to get out of the bar, onto the street, but failed. He pushed twice more before realizing he had to pull the door to open it. Ostap witnessed the fiasco of the man’s exit and would have laughed, but he knew the man was a prime candidate to get rolled on the walk home, especially in this part of town. Isaac had also noticed the man leaving and looked to Ostap with an odd smirk, to which Ostap could only respond with a shrug.
Once outside, Jackson Cooper took a brief moment to collect himself and determine a direction to head. He departed at a quick pace, and failed to notice a man in the shadows begin to cautiously follow him. The shadowy figure adjusted his glasses and kept his distance behind the drunken reporter.