‘It’s rude to sit down without being invited’ she said, her voice like honey; warm and soft, but any deeper it would have sounded ridiculous on a woman her size.
‘I was’ I replied
‘By whom?’ I noted her correct grammar
‘By your eyes’ I said enjoying the stand off.
She picked up her new drink and raised it to her lips but before she could drink I spoke.
‘It’s rude not to say thank you?’ I said, half a smile in my voice.
She deliberately took a long sip then replaced the glass on the table complete with lipstick smudge. All while she kept eye contact I found myself falling into her baby greens, but managed to save myself just in time.
‘So what do you want lady?’ I asked, time was money.
‘Who says I want anything?’ Why do dames always have to play the games?
‘Hey lady’ I said the smile in my voice replaced with impatience, ‘Parker there says you've been asking after me and your eyes were searching for me when I came in here, so don't play games.’
She took another sip, her eyes exploring me, trying to decide if I was the tough guy I was playing or if it was just an act.
‘I want you to find my son.’ She said finally, slipping a photo of a young boy across the table.
He was handsome, darker skin than hers, about 4 or 5 years old at a guess. Kidnapped by his own father I thought.
‘Kidnapped by his own father’ she said echoing the words in my mind. ‘Took him - then went to ground,’ she continued, vanished completely.’ Her voice was still soft, strong, no hint of upset.
‘Why haven't you gone to the police?’ It was the obvious question but it needed answering.
‘I did,’ she said ‘but they do nothing.’
‘Gone abroad?’ I asked. The kids skin was darker I was guessing his dad was not from these shores.
She shook her head. ‘Police don't think so.’
We talked some more, her filling me in on the details, me trying to stop myself falling into her beautiful green eyes. She showed me a mpicture of his father, a handsome man, well-to-do, nice threads, good teeth. She spoke as I looked a the picture, it was a typical tale of mixed marriage, divorce and custody battle; father from Bulgarian wanting to take the child home, mother wanting to keep the child here. Such a cliché but that didn’t take away from the heartbreak and pain in her eyes. But I felt there was some she was not telling me, an important detail, something she’d forgotten to add.
‘So why come to me?’ that question often flushed out the extra info but she played a straight bat.
‘I'm desperate Mr Stanley. and you’re the best there is.’
‘Ok so why not come to the office?’ It had struck me as strange that she lingered down here hoping to find me rather than come up two flights of stairs where she’d be sure to see me.
‘I think I’m being followed Mr Stanley, if I’d I come to your office he would have known I’ve come to speak to you, but he didn't come in here so he knows I'm here but doesn't know who I am talking to.’
It was logical but why was she being followed? Again there was the nagging suspicion that there was something missing and that something would be key to everything.
‘Can you help me?’ I should have said no, that missing link was nagging away at my brain. But instead I said.
‘It'll cost you.’
She pushed an envelope across the table I didn't need to look to know it was cash.
‘This should cover your expenses’ she said ‘return my boy and I'll double it’.
‘Hey I don't do kidnapping Miss ...’ I left a gap for her to fill in her name but she remained silent. Again missing details.
‘Locate him, let me know where he is, I'll take care of the rest’ she said eventually.
With that she finished her drink and got up to leave.
‘How do I contact you?’ I said as she was nearly at the door.
‘I'll find you’ she replied.
I sat in silence for a few moments before deciding to follow her. I grabbed my coat and nodded at Parker to let him know I'd cover my bill later, he knew I was good for it. Then I stepped out into the street and looked around. It was hard to locate a short woman in a land off giants but I eventually saw her about 60 yards away.
I kept my distance watching not only her but for signs that someone else was on her trail.
She led us to the town houses in the posh end of town, the expensive ones. Judging by the envelope she'd given me and the place she lived, she didn't want for a cent or two. I saw her go in to one of them, I took a note of the number then watched Santa Claus watch the house. Lights went on, curtains were drawn the evidence told me the broad was at home, and probably lived alone. Santa had seen enough, he turned on his heel and walked back to towards town walking passed me as he did so but he still didn’t notice me. I gave him a head start then followed wondering why he’d given up so easily, what if she went out again?
It was an open secret that these places were glorified brothels. For the right price you could get anything you wanted in the infamous back rooms; it should have been illegal but the cops turned a blind eye, they had bigger fish to fry.
I lingered around outside for a moment before following Santa in. The bar looked like a sleazy version of Parker's, similar faces having a last 'meeting' before heading home to their wives but there was more flesh on show than the butcher's window. It was a depressing place, threadbare carpets and tired furniture. The contrast between the boredom in the eyes of the staff and the excitement on the face of the clientele was striking. I looked around, there was no sign of Santa suggesting he was here on work not pleasure, unless he was in one of those back rooms. I sat at the bar and ordered, the barman mixed drink watching me carefully. He then asked if I wanted anything else. We both knew he didn't mean peanuts. I shook my head, he wasn’t pleased it wasn't the done thing to just come and look, customers were expected to sample the wares.
I looked him in the eye.
He looked at me, looked at the money and then spoke.
He turned away leaving the money on the bar. I took the money, left the drink untouched and made my way back out into the rain.
‘Why did you go to see him?’ She asked, if her eyes were inviting, her tone wasn't. She stared at me, waiting for an answer.
I let silence do some talking for a moment, letting her stew in her own anger. I took a swig of my drink, maintaining eye-contact.
‘Listen lady,’ I said indignantly, ‘don't tell me how to do my job, either trust me or take the money back.’
‘There's no mystery here lady,’ I said, voicing the thoughts I'd had earlier in the evening. ‘You know he's got the kid, I can follow him to find out where, but you probably know that already, and anyway then what?’
‘I’ve paid you to find him Archer Stanley, Don't ask me why.’ She spat the words at me. ‘Either do it or give me the money back.’
She was putting on a good show, she flip-flopped between helpless dame and Iron Lady with ease.
That was the second time I’d heard that tonight, I thought to myself.
‘Show me you really are as good as you say you are.’ She continued. ‘Or maybe you're all talk.’
I didn't know if wanted to slap her or kiss her. But of course I’d never slap a broad and I’d never kiss a client, but that never stopped me wanting to.
She pushed another envelope of money in my direction.
I stood up and headed to the payphone in the corner of the bar. I’d got this far, I’d may as well take the money and run.