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Nine (part 9)

 
Joe Spivey's picture
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The car carried on down Humphreys and turned right onto Coconino Avenue. Passing the building where the Ranyhyn Company had its offices, Joe swung right and they were back on the square. Joe drove slowly through the crowd and eventually pulled up outside the shaft down to Rowdy’s Bar.

Finny had outgrown, well almost, the dare game of sliding down the ladder and then climbing up as fast as you could to escape getting caught by the bouncer who lurked below. It was Russian roulette really. Getting caught all depended how close the bouncer was to the bottom of the ladder. It felt strange, then, to be climbing down the ladder without the heart pounding fear of being instantly ready to scramble back up again.

The bouncer ignored Finny and instead nodded as Joe led her up the steps and through a door she had only ever glimpsed before. She was surprised to find out that there were more steps leading down and the further down she followed Joe the worse the smell got. Pee and beer and cigarette smoke… And that strange smell of vomit and sawdust. All very grown up smells that made Finny just a little nervous.

At the bottom of the flights of stairs there was another door, and behind it Finny could hear muffled music. The music got louder when Joe led her through and into a space much bigger than she had imagined. Joe looked around for a few moments and Finny noticed that the few people in the bar quickly looked away after spotting Joe. Just in the same way, she realised, that kids in the dining room looked away when certain other kids entered. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t invite trouble.

Joe led Finny to the lower level and towards a booth where a man sat. Finny knew from her own early experience with him that Joe was ‘not a nice man’, but, except for that first meeting with him when she was seven, her contact with Joe had always been either at the factory or on the few visits to his home and family life. The reaction to him here reminded her that Joe was more than just the grumpy boss she knew.

They reached the booth and Joe motioned for her to slide in on the side opposite the man. Joe squeezed in after her and just in time for a waiter to appear. Joe ordered a beer and a soda for her and the waiter went away.

The man across the table from them wore a coat with the collar turned up and a big floppy hat with the brim turned down. Finny thought he looked like the spy in the story “The Silent Spy”, well until she saw his face which didn’t look anything like the handsome spy described in the book. The man staring at her with big, bug-like eyes had a sharp chin and a long turkey neck which was covered in red, sore looking skin. He also didn’t exude the suave confidence of the spy in the book because he looked really, really nervous.

Joe adjusted the position of his sawn-off shotgun so that it wasn’t digging into his hip and grunted his relief.

“Thaaaat’s better.” He nodded at the man opposite. “Afternoon Eric.” Eric graced Joe with an unfriendly smile that lasted all of a single second. Joe nudged Finny.

“This is Eric Small, Finny. Not to be confused with that great white turd-burglar known to all as Fat Eric.”

Just then the drinks arrived and Eric twitched fretfully as Joe passed the girl her soda and then carefully positioned a beer mat under his own glass. Joe then paid the waiter who disappeared up the small flight of steps back into the main bar. Eric leaned onto the table.

“Can we just get on with this?”

Joe took the first sip of his beer and savoured the hoppy goodness. He put the glass down.

“Calm down Eric old son. Finny?” Finny, who was making good progress in draining the glass of soda in the fervent hope of getting another, put down the glass and burped.

“Yes Joe?”

“Our friend Eric here is another important resident of New Flagstaff who it is good to get to know.” Across the table Eric gave an exasperated eye roll and slumped back against the curved, high leather seat of the booth. Joe continued anyway and at the same conversational pace. “Eric is an employee of our lords and masters ‘The Union’ and has lots of friends there who will help fellow citizens like us cut through the maze of officialdom… For a price.”

Eric sat forward again and thrust a hand across the table towards Finny.

“Very nice to meet you little girl, er Finny.” Finny shook his hand silently, while watching the man’s very prominent Adam’s apple bounce up and down as he spoke.

“You to, Sir.”

Breaking the handshake, Eric leaned forward into Joe’s face.

“Can I go now?”

Joe sighed.

“Yes Eric, you can go.”

Eric Small scrambled from the booth and, pulling his hat even further down and his collar even higher up, scuttled from the bar in a manner guaranteed to defeat his desire not to draw attention to himself.

Seemingly content with the outcome of the short meeting, Joe sat back, lifted his beer again and treated himself to a slow smile.

Finny was as confused as ever but, as Joe showed no sign of moving until his beer was finished, she decided this was probably as good a time as any to ask what this was all about.



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