I swung by the diner where Ruby worked. We didn’t share an apartment. I had brought the subject up, but she…well she was a woman who liked to keep her options open. She had dreams that a guy was going to ride into the diner on a big white horse and carry her off into the sunset, where she would have two kids, a mini-van, and a perfect life. I was just a bed warmer until that day arrived. This was not without benefit to me, as she liked to point out, but I hardly ever cashed in on the advantages of other women and she wouldn’t move me out of the ‘friends with benefits’ zone. A guy would have to be dumb to turn that down for just the ‘friend zone.' Especially with Ruby. She was tall and lean and cleaned up well. Fitness was her religion, despite the slop she slung at Ed’s Diner. ‘Grease of different flavors’ she called it and never partook herself. She had natural strawberry blonde hair and her measurements ran close to 36-24-36. She had the ability to spot a loser from a kilometer away and let them down so softly they didn’t even begrudge her the lift. Why she hung out with a man like me…well, I had my ideas, but never voiced them.
When times were good, as in I had a paycheck, Ruby would hang off my arm like the perfect dame, loyal, caring, pouty even without being bitchy. However, if things were lean, well I had learned not to come around. A girl like her has a standard to which she needed to be kept, even if she worked slinging plates at Ed’s.
Ruby was working tables, the place wasn’t busy, so I swung into a booth. If it had been hopping, I would have taken a seat at one of the red vinyl counter stools instead. Ruby came by a moment later with coffee and poured me a cup in that slow, elegant manner that let me know I’d done something wrong. Anniversary? She didn’t keep track, which is like saying an alcoholic doesn’t know to the ounce how much liquor is left in their house. No, not an anniversary.
“What’s wrong, Ruby?” I was too tired to guess and figured I’d only make things worse by playing dumb.
“You were supposed to come by last night. I was off at 9, remember? We were going to watch a couple shows?”
I hadn’t called her? I shook my head, no, I didn’t remember calling her with what went down about Hawk. I let out a long sigh. “Sorry, Ruby. Sit down for a second would ya?”
“I ain’t got time to sit down. You stood me up, didn’t even call me. I called three times, sent a text even.” Ruby hated text messaging.
She turned away with the coffee pot and took three steps before I said, “Hawk’s dead.” Her back stiffened, and she turned to face me.
“Billy…you better not be putting me on to get out of trouble!”
I shook my head and took a sip of coffee, when I raised my eyes I saw her slide into the booth across from me. “Who did it?”
Ruby knows of my power, but, as close as we were, I never shared its limitation with her. “He’s dead too.”
“You didn’t!” She looked around fervently.
“Not me, someone beat me to it. I found Hawk, called the cops, they brought Dog in, and Clarence. Dog tracked the guy down. Yeah, yeah, I knew where the guy was too, a place over in Cotta Terrace. Run down, city’s been mowing it and keeping it up, but it has been stripped by wire cutters already. We found the guy there. In pieces.”
Her hand came to cover the perfect ‘O’ of her mouth.
“Dog said the scent matched the guy who killed Hawk, but someone else killed Mister Three Piece.”
“Mister Three Piece?”
“No ID on the second body, so I hung that name on him. I’m pretty sure I know who killed him, only problem is, that guy has an alibi, a damn good one; he’s in prison.”
“Geezus, Billy. What are you gonna do?”
“I need to crash, figured I’d get some breakfast and maybe crash at your place if you don’t mind.”
“My place? What’s wrong with your apartment?”
“Dog told me to keep my head down. Hawk was the last good shiner living out in the open around here.” I gave her a quick glance before looking back down into my coffee, “Well, the second to last one anyway.”
“You don’t me…he thinks they’re gunning for you?”
“Didn’t they give you police protection? Anything?”
I shook my head. “It’s only a theory; the others have disappeared, maybe retired, maybe dead. There haven’t been any bodies, so no one really knows. The thing is, Mister Three Piece, he was a shiner too. I mean he would have had to be, to take down Hawk. I don’t think Slice could have done Hawk.”
“Slice? You mean the Slice? The South Side Slicer? I thought he was dead for killing someone years ago.”
“Ruby, you’ have been what? Sixteen? Nah, Slice cut a deal, gave up some other bad people, norms, and got his sentence down to second-degree murder. Pulled twenty years for that one, but Clarence checked, he’s due out on parole in a few weeks. Except this killing has Slice all over it.”
“They got a teleporter then.” Ruby said firmly. The thought had occurred to me too. No doubt Dog was already checking that angle as well. Someone jumped into the prison, slept in Slice’s rack and let him handle the killing of Mister Three Piece, then swapped with him. Usually, there were extra precautions taken with Shiners and Slice wasn’t exactly a lightweight in the world of crime or shine.
I just nodded to Ruby, “I think they must.” Of course ‘they’ was organized crime. It used to be an Italian racket until the Chinese moved in; those sides started a low-level gang war which made them ripe for the picking by the Ramos family, a family with ties to two Mexican Cartels who eliminated the competition in a matter of weeks. Even the eleventh-hour alliance of the Vitellos and Teungs couldn’t save either faction. A few of the Teungs were still around, they had degraded until they were little more than a street gang and called themselves the Kongs now. They dealt drugs and whores out of the east side, but couldn’t compete with the Ramos Family. The Vitellos had fared better but had been forced to ally with the Ramos’s. Of all of them, I disliked the Vitellos the least.
“They aren’t going to show up and trash my place looking for you are they?” Ruby asked.
Classic Ruby, the bad guys, are killing people, Shiners, and she’s worried about her place. “I doubt it. I hope not, but honestly, babe, if they find me I doubt I’ll have much to worry about will I?”
She shook her head, “I don’t want to come home to a body, Billy. I don’t think I could take that.”
“Well, I promise to do my best not to leave a mess or a body for you to find.”
“Sure. Fine. Make jokes.” The cook hit the bell at the window behind the counter. “I’ll go get your food.”
I hadn’t ordered, but I always got the same thing. Ruby rose and collected it for me, her anger was gone, I could tell by the way she set the plate in front of me. But she switched me to decaf, saying only, “You’ll drink an entire pot and if you do you won’t get any rest. You look like you need to sleep, Billy.”
Things got busy at Ed’s, and I left my payment and a good tip on the table when I was done. I parked my Accord six blocks away from Ruby’s place in a public lot and walked around about to her apartment. All of the places in her building have private entrances, they went up five stories, and she was on the fourth. The place was nice, good for an evening in or entertaining a dozen people or so, which she did a few times a year while trolling for her prince. It was a two bedroom, and her spare was set up for guests, not as a craft room or a library or any other sort of pretentious kind of space that was a cover for ‘junk room.’ Looking around after I went in I realized I would have a hard time figuring out what Ruby did for fun by what was in her place. It was generic. Boring. Sooner or later she would settle for someone. Probably not me, if only so she could pretend she made a better catch. After a moment of debating, I took the guest room, stripping off my clothing and taking a quick shower before I turned in. A few hours of sleep and I’d head back to my office to check the mail and messages.
They came while I was sleeping. It’s not surprising, that is the best time to get the jump on your victim. The fight was brutal, and there were casualties on both sides. The first I heard about it was when my phone rang at a quarter after eleven.
“Yeah?” It was Clarence.
“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for the last half hour, where have you been?”
“Sleeping. I didn’t get home until seven. Why are you up?” The son of a bitch sounded like he had gotten a full eight hours.
“They got Dog. Where are you? No. Better you not say anything. Meet me at 8th and Pearl, at Waffles in twenty minutes. Can you do that?”
“Meet me at Waffles. Twenty minutes.” The line went dead.
They got Dog.