The Furtive Glance - an Archer Stanley Story



She shot me a furtive glance from across the bar. I could tell it was for me the way the eyes searched for contact and then flitted away the second it was made. It had been a long day and all I wanted was a drink before heading home but when a broad looks at you like that, it's difficult not to be interested. She was short and slim, easy to mistake for a 12 year old boy at first glance but second or third glance revealed she was all woman with gentle curves in all the right places. Her eyes had made contact, now I wondered what the rest of her body wanted. She was sitting at the back end of Parker's bar, a small one bar joint under my office. Parker told me she'd been there for an hour, nursing her bourbon like it was from the last bottle on the planet. Apart from me and her and our host the were 4 or 5 other people in the bar, the usual array of familiar faces, city workers having one last ‘meeting' before heading home to their families. Parker mixed my drink and a fresh one for the dame and I ambled over to her. I put the glasses on the table and sat down opposite.
‘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.’

‘Who says?’ I asked, but she didn’t answer.
‘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.

He was easy to spot, a large man, big on stomach but small of brain. He looked more suited to a job as Santa Claus than as a sleuth. You could tell by the way he followed the dame that he was an amateur, there was no subtlety, no guile, he just literally followed her. It was no wonder the dame knew she was being tailed, it'd be hard not to notice having at 260 pound man lumbering behind you. I followed him following her. It was a foul night, the rain was getting harder, and the wind blowing it into my face. I turned up the collar on my coat and put my head down. Following someone is about timing, when to turn a corner, when to over take and then pull off the throttle, when to cross to the other sidewalk etc. But to be honest I didn't need my tactics because the lump in front of me was too dumb to notice and I was far enough behind the dame not to arouse suspicions. 
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 didnt notice me. I gave him a head start then followed wondering why he’d given up so easily, what if she went out again?
I didn't mind though. I was more interested in the hound than the fox right now so not hanging around outside the broad's house suited me just fine. Santa was oblivious to my presence, he took no precautions; if he worked for me, I’d give him a stern talking to but he didn’t so it was none of my business. The rain had eased a little  as we turned into Turnbell street. The bars here were so sleazy they could have appeared on 1970's children's television.
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. 
Santa turned into one of the bars imaginatively called Cupcakes; there was no mistaking from the sign that these were DD cups.
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.
   ‘Hey John, who owns this joint?’ I asked more in hope then expectation. 
I put my money on the counter, there was far more than just for the drink.
He looked at me, looked at the money and then spoke.
               ‘It's on the house, now drink up and leave.’
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. 

Andrews was exactly where I expected him to be, propping up the bar in Copeland’s having just one more, one more time. That man didn’t just have one for the road, he had one for all the roads in the land. He was an old school cop, one of the best back in the day, now lsightly washed up, slightly bitter but still a mine of information, a mine that could be tapped for the right price. I put a note down on the bar, enough to pay for all his last drinks and sat on the stool next to him. 
               ‘Who owns Cupcakes?’ I said. 
               ‘You never even say hello?’ He slurred back. I looked at him waiting for an answer, not willing to play games.. 
               ‘Bulgarians’ he said eventually. ‘The Georgievs, the father is Plamen but the son is running the place, Hristo.’
I showed him the picture the broad had given me. Andrews nodded,
               ‘That’s him’ he said. ‘Nasty piece of work, want my advice? You keep away from the whole family.’

It was beginning to make sense now. That nagging feeling the dame was not telling me something. Well I just worked out what it was. The father of the child was one of the most dangerous men in town.

Parker’s was nearly empty when I came back in to settle my bill. The city workers had called it a night and I knew I should do the same. But what harm could one last drink do? And a drink would help me think and right now I needed to think. There was something wrong with this case, something that just didn’t add up. The dame had asked me to find the kid, but there was no mystery there. The kid was with his dad, okay maybe not at the family home but she didn’t need to give a private detective a bundle of cash to work out where he was and if she thought I’d help snatch the kid back, she had another thing coming.  

Andrews had given me the low down on the Georgievs, he told me they owned nothing but controlled everything; they oiled the machine of the underworld. Cupcakes was their only ‘legit’ business; the rest was a shady web of connections and influences.  I put my hand into my jacket pocked and fingered the money the broad had given me. I hadn’t counted it, but it was a lot. Was it enough to get me embroiled with the most dangerous gang in town?

I longed for a cigarette, but my smoking days were far behind me. I closed my eyes and pinched my nose, when I opened them again I was not alone. To the left of me was the barman from Cupcakes on my right Santa, the goon I’d followed earlier in the evening. The fun was about to start. 
            ‘Hristo is unhappy you turned town his hospitality.’ the barman said, referring to the drink I’d left untouched on the bar. ‘He’d like to extend the hand of friendship to you personally.’ 
            ‘Thanks.’ I said cordially, ‘but I was just on my way home.’ 
            ‘I think you should find time for Mr Georgiev.’ said Santa, menace in his voice. 
            ‘Let’s go then.’ I said taking trying to take charge of a situation I was no longer in control of. 
The two henchmen led me back to Cupcakes. I tried to make conversation on the way, but Santa wasn’t interested in hearing my advice on following someone. 
If it were possible, the girls in the bar looked even bored now then they were before while the clientele had changed from frustrated husbands to hard-core sleazebags. 
They led me through to a backroom, where I came face to face with Hristo Georgiev. 
He was shorter than I expected, but still a bear of a man. It was the hair that stood out, literally. Thick, wiry hair on his arms, on his face on his chest, on his  neck. I imagined his back was like the black forest. 
            ‘I hear you’ve been asking too many questions.’ he said without too much of an accent. 
            ‘I only asked one.’ I replied. The look he gave me, made it quite clear that one was one too many. 
            ‘Stanley Archer’ I winced. I hated when people did that. 
            ‘It’s Archer Stanley’ I corrected him. He looked confused for a moment.
            ‘Archer Stanley,’ he started again,  ‘don’t get yourself involved in something you don’t understand.’ He seemed to know a lot about me. Maybe Santa was better at his job than I thought. 
            ‘Now tell me what the lady paid you, I’ll double it and no one will get hurt.’ 
            ‘Client confidentiality.’ I said, sounding braver than I felt. 
            ‘I’ll give you 24 hours , Mr Arc…Mr  Stanley. 24 hours to make the right decision.’  We both knew what he meant. 

As I walked home, my heart beating and adrenalin pumping, I was aware I was being watched. I knew who it was but I played the game; a little bit of cat and mouse, before turning a corner and waiting for my shadow. As expected, she came round the corner not expecting me to be standing there. She let out a little yelp. 
            ‘What do you want lady?’ I said, my voice sharper than it needed to be. She looked at me with anger in her eyes. 
‘I want to know what that pig wanted with you.’ She said. 
We were close to a late night bar called Dacey’s, I nodded towards it. 
            ‘Drink’ I said. 
            ‘Drink’ she agreed and we both headed into the bar.

She followed me to the bar and let me order the drinks. It was a dimly-lit dive, filled with the last stragglers of the night. I suggested we take the drinks to a booth away from the great unwashed, she nodded feeling like she didn’t belong here. I dunno why but she sat the same side as me. She was too close for my liking. I could smell her scent, and feel her breath on my face, I didn’t know if that was good or bad but it felt uncomfortable. Her eyes were as clear as earlier in the evening, inviting me in with their emerald charms, but her face looked older, tireder somehow, maybe it was the lighting in this joint, or maybe it was the strain beginning to show.
‘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.’ 
I was hoping this could be my escape clause, but she didn’t bite. She just looked down at her drink. She was so close, I could smell her hair, it smelt of lavender. She looked back at me, tears in her eyes, but that was an old trick, she didn’t fool me for a second.
      ‘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?’ 
It was her turn to let the silence linger, leave the question unanswered.
       ‘Ive 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. 
‘You got 24 hours' she said.
That was the second time Id 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.

         We sat in silence for a moment before she got up to leave, the tears back in her eyes. ‘Just find him Mr. Stanley, just find him.’ she said and this time I thought the tears just might be genuine. She walked from the bar, leaving me alone with my thoughts, the eyes of the stragglers watching as she left. I decided it was time for just one more, what harm could one last drink do? A drink would help me think and right now I needed to think.

I woke up with my head complaining about the night before. My stomach wasn’t best pleased either. Weak sunlight filled my room, erotic thoughts filled my head. I stumbled to the kitchen and glugged down a glass of water; then I stared out of the window wondering what to do about the broad and the Georgievs. The Bulgarians didn’t scare me, I could handle myself, but there was still the nagging suspicion that there was something I didn’t know. Something important that the broad wasn’t telling me. Maybe I was looking too hard. Maybe it was just a case of the police not trying hard enough and that’s why she needed me.  But I didn’t like it. I took a pill, got dressed and headed out, I wasn’t sure where I was going but maybe fresh air would help me think and would help my cravings for a cigarette.
I walked until I found myself outside Cupcakes. God the place looked sleazy even in the cold light of day. It was already open for business, what kind of man uses a brothel at this time of the morning?
I had 24 hours to solve the case, but I didn’t have any leads, I didn’t know where Hristov lived or what else he owned. I needed a huge slice of luck and as it happened I was just about to get lucky.  A car pulled up outside the club, and out of it stepped an old woman and a young boy, the very young boy I was looking for. Hristov appeared from the bowels of the club, all smiles for his son. I guessed the woman was the grandmother, obvious really.  The trio walked down the street, closely followed by Santa; providing his own brand of security. I watched them go on ahead then followed them, watching my step, keeping my distance, making sure I could see them but they couldn’t see me. They were heading for the park, I guess the boy needed a run out. To be honest, they looked like any normal family, by looking at him, youd never have known Hristov was a sleazy son of a bitch, he looked like just a normal divorced dad out with his boy.

It was then I felt the pain, a dig to my ribs then as I bent double a knock out blow to the side of my head. 

I didn't know how long I lay unconscious but I woke to the sound of birds singing, that was because I was in a park, not because I was in a cartoon. My head throbbed, itd been one hell of a blow, not a fist but a baseball bat or something. I tried to get up but the world span so I decided to lay still. Eventually I managed to pull myself up. I checked my pockets, my wallet was there, this hadnt been a robbery, this was another warning, a shot across my bows.  The trio had long gone taking Santa and my attacker with them. Id got unlucky as quickly as Id got lucky. 
I headed to Copeland’s hoping the cop Andrews would be there, Id buy him a drink and see if I could get him to sing some more. But I didn't need to, before I could reach the bar I was intercepted by a fragile looking dame with tired eyes. She looked like a porcelain doll with pronounced green veins on her temple and neck. 
‘You Stanley Archer?’ she said, I confirmed my identity by correcting her word order. 
‘I know where the boy is,’ she said lowering her voice. 
‘Where’ I said knowing she wouldn't volunteer the info for free.  She had a look in her eye that told me she wasnt stupid. I bundled her into Copeland’s and ordered the drinks, my head was still throbbing from the blow, I hoped the alcohol would take the edge off. 
‘How much?’ I asked 
‘100’ she replied, it seemed a fair price, I fished some bills from my wallet and held them out in front of her. She went to take them but I was too quick. 
‘Speak lady,’ I said holding the notes just out of arms way.
‘Hes with his grandmother’ I already knew that ‘in the Grand Hotel.’ Now that was interesting. 
‘How do you know?’ I asked suspiciously.
‘I work for Hristov, I had to look after him yesterday.’ she said without missing a beat. 
‘So why’re you telling me?’ 
‘Cos a kid needs his mother.’
‘Well, why not tell the police or his ex?’
‘Cos they won't pay. I know you will.’
I had to admire the broad she had balls. 
‘Careful’ she continued, ‘Hristov controls the Grand, his men are everywhere.’  I nodded my head in understanding, left the notes on the table and headed back out into the daylight.

I guessed this might have been a trap, so I took a little more care than usual. I found the Grand and headed into a bar opposite, the perfect place for a stake out. I’d settled in for the long haul but it didnt take long. In fact I hadn't even finished my first drink before the now familiar car pulled up and out got the boy and his grandma. That didnt surprise me but what happened next did. Cos who should come bounding down the steps to meet them, only the kid’s mother.

I sat in Parker’s still confused by the events of the day, Id known something was fishy, but Id not expected this? I had to admit the dame had pulled the wool over my eyes, she was a good actress, she deserved an Oscar. I was watching the door hoping she'd show. Shed said shed find me, well now it was time. I didn't play games, and even if the client paid me, I still didnt play along. I touched my face, it was still tender from the smack I’d taken earlier in the day,  I put the cold glass against my head to sooth the pain and waited. 

Finally the dame showed up, her face drawn with stress, her eyes still mysterious, it was impossible to hate her for long, so I had to act quick. 
‘Any news?’ she said. 
‘There might be.’ I replied coldly. 
‘Tell me, please Mr Stanley.’ Her voice sounded desperate, she was a great actor.
‘Why don’t you tell me?’ I said in my best no nonsense voice. She looked confused.
‘The Grand Hotel?’ I left the words to percolate in her mind. She hesitated, unsure if to come clean. I stared at her, hoping the confession would come soon, otherwise those eyes might just win me over.
‘I saw you lady, now stop playing games,’ I said eventually.  Her face cracked, she smiled, the tension washed away.  
‘Ok, you saw me, so what?’
‘What's going on lady?  Why did you kidnap your own son?' 
‘I didn’t Mr Stanley, you have to believe me. Hristov did the kidnapping but luckily his mother is a kinder woman than he is. She knows a boy needs his mother. She contacted me immediately.’ 
‘So why employ me?’
‘Because without you then that bastard will know someone has betrayed him.’ Her voice was business-like, cold. ‘He’s got friends in the police, hell know who grassed him.’ I thought about it for a moment. It made sense, I think.
‘So you even got the girl to give me the lead?’ I asked. 
‘What girl?’ the broad asked. She was either acting to save the porcelain neck or she really was clueless. I decided to leave it.
‘So what now?’
She pushed another envelope of money in my direction. 

‘Call the police, tip them off and then this is yours.’ She said, not a hint of emotion in her voice.
I stood up and headed to the payphone in the corner of the bar. Id got this far, I’d may as well take the money and run. 

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