I’m not a happy person. Never have been. The rain in this city has a way of washing happiness down the sewer.
I’m looking at the door and thinking some unhappy thoughts – something like: that’s not the sound I expect to hear from a door – when it opens up and in walks Inspector Alliteration. That’s not his name, of course, but it’s the one that’s stuck in my head ever since the case of the stolen similes.
"You look positively miserable Rick," he tells me. "Not happy, even."
I try to catch a glimpse of my reflection in the top of the tumbler of malt to see if he’s right. It’s too dark to see much but he’s not wrong anyway.
"You should water that down, you know? Bring out the aromas. Make it last a little longer."
You learn something new every day. I’d just learnt that Inspector Alliteration must be taking whiskey appreciation classes somewhere in the city. I tell him I don’t drink for the aromas but I swivel around and stick the glass through the open window and get the rain from the filth-coloured sky to help out anyway. A large drip from the sill above lands smack in the centre of the tumbler’s contents with a loud guffaw.
"Let me guess …" I start to say as I slide the drink away from me.
"No dice Rake," he cuts me off. "I’ve not come here to play games. I’m gonna talk and you’re gonna listen. Then you’re gonna trawl the streets and crawl in the gutters and do what you do best."
I’m not sure what it is I do best but I’m pretty good at staying quiet and listening unhappily to one of the city’s so-called finest letting me know what’s going down.
"Tainted onomatopoeia," I say when he’s finished. "And no blackmail note? No suspects?"
"The city’s full of suspects. Hell, you’re one!"
"Me? Why, officer, I’m a paragon of legal virtue," I smile. Not a happy smile.
"Don’t think we don’t keep tabs on all you private dicks whenever there’s a downturn in business. It wouldn’t take much for you to drum up some trade on your own now, would it?"
I return to my whiskey and point out that there’s never a downturn in business. The cases keep on coming, one after another, each more soul-soaking than the last.
"You’re back from Literalville!" says Danny The Weasel with fake genuine warmth. Not a lot gets past street smart Danny which is why I’m talking to him first. There’s street smart and real smart and explaining onomatopoeia takes a while. I think he’s got it, though.
"Yeah. There have been strange things happening," he admits quietly, looking around weasel-like. We’re down a dead end alleyway half-sheltered from the weather by the fire escape steps outside the old Roxy. There’s nobody around and it’s difficult to hear him over the incessant buzzing of rain hitting metal.
"Now, look," he continues, "I was minding my own business early this morning before that heist at the savings and loan which I had no part of by the way," – the heist was news to me; my radio had stopped working a month ago – "and I saw these two gentlemen in nice suits and long coats making their way out of Chinatown and they just happened to be going my way so I tagged along a bit, for company see, only a little way’s back on account of them not knowing me and it not being polite."
"You’ve got a way with words Danny," I tell him. "Mind if we skip ahead to where you hear something or see something I might be interested in or is this narrative absolutely vital?"
"Oh, you been to the new Sarcasm store on Fifth too?" he asks.
I’m about to explain that I get everything I need from that old mom and pop place next to the Fat Lip Emporium when our conversation is interrupted by a deafening ribbet! I flatten to the wall and drop into a crouch pulling Danny with me quickly. He comes all too easily and he’s sporting a switfly-opening flower of nearly-black blood on his chest.
There’s only one place that bullet could have come from so I look up into the faces of two heavily-coated men on the stairwell above. It figured. There might be a smaller guy above and behind them but it’s hard to tell for sure. One of the two is holding a revolver and I can see steam rising off its barrel from where I’m squatting. I’m glad I’m not closer or I’d probably hear the rain meowing as it hit the weapon too.
"I’m not packing!" I shout, holding my hands out. I don’t know if that’s going to matter to this pair. Poor Danny wasn’t packing either. I do know that I won’t have a chance if I try to run however.
"You! Rick Rake. You come!" shouts the unarmed one of the two. Visibly unarmed, I remind myself. He’s got a thick accent, one of the European ones. He’s also got a face that doesn’t look like it tolerates trouble and a friend with a history of cold-blooded murder.
This large room’s over the top of a Chinese laundry. It’s humid as hell. At least my wrists aren’t tied so I can wipe away the sweat from my forehead every few minutes.
"Surprised to see me, Rick?" asks "Boom-Boom" Bertie Simms.
"You could say that Boom-Boom," I answer. "I didn’t think you were up for parole for another couple at least."
"Parole’s one way out of prison Rick. There’s another way though. I’m just not a patient man it turns out."
"So I’ve heard," I tell him. He’s got a look like thunder on his face which he hides quickly. I move our little chat along smoothly. "You killed Danny The Weasel. You didn’t have to do that."
"Unfortunate. He’ll be missed I’m sure. As will you."
With hindsight I probably should have kept well away from the subject of killing in a room with a recently-escaped bank robber I helped to put away and a couple of trigger-happy Germans. I’m guessing they were German anyway.
"What’s this all about Boom-Boom? What are we all doing in Chinatown? You don’t need me here."
"I’m disappointed in you Rick. You’re usually quicker than this."
"I thought that was your reputation," I tell him before I wish I hadn’t. Bertie points at one of his acquaintances and the next thing I know I’m flying across the floor and landing in a heap with a disappointing crackle. My chin feels like it’s recently made friends with a lead pipe. Those Germans must be eating their greens.
Boom-Boom and the boys are standing over me so I don’t even bother thinking about standing up. I’m trying to cover up my ribs and some of my favourite organs just in case but I know that Boom-Boom wants me to know why I’m still around and breathing for the moment even if I can’t figure it out for myself.
"I’ve got a long memory Rick, and I’m a spiteful person at heart. You put me away so I’m going to put you away. I wanted you to know this personal-like."
"Much appreciated Boom-Boom. You remember to tell the judge that when he’s sentencing you."
Maybe that blow to the chin has knocked some bravado into me. That’s a dangerous attribute to have in the detective business but this seems as good a time as any to set it free so I kick out and try to sweep the feet from under the European heavies. It’s like trying to knock over a building in your socks. There’s a loud whistle as a gun is cocked and placed against my temple.
"Don’t move Rake. You’ll only make this harder on yourself."
I think my bravado’s just fainted with fright because I’m all out of retorts. Sweating on a wooden floor in an upstairs apartment in Chinatown is not how I imagined it would all end. "What’s with the tainted onomatopoeia?" I ask. It’s true; you do play for time when your life’s about to end.
Boom-Boom leans down and talks: "I’ve missed robbing banks while I’ve been inside Rick and that made me really, really unhappy."
"We’re all unhappy Boom-Boom. We’re people. People are unhappy. And the rain doesn’t help."
"Robbing banks makes me happy though. You wouldn’t begrudge me a little happiness now, would you?"
I would but I keep quiet partly because he’s got that wistful look in his eyes that means he’s going to explain what’s really going on and partly because with my head pressed to the floorboards I can hear a gentle tinkle, tinkle. It’s a reassuring sound.
"There’s only one person who blows up banks like me and that’s me," he says. "That’s why they call me Boom-Boom, of course."
Well, that’s not the reason I’d heard from a couple of his ex-girlfriends but that tinkle, tinkle is getting louder and I’ve got the feeling I should just let him talk.
"It turns out that my friends here, Herrs Muller and Freunde, wouldn’t call me Boom-Boom inside on account of their heritage and that got me thinking about how to avoid suspicion on the outside, see?"
And suddenly I was beginning to see. "The Germans are importing in bad onomatopoeia which you’re funding through bank jobs. They get paid, you get confused witnesses who report hearing woofs and zaps, and Danny The Weasel gets shot just for talking to me."
"He was shot because he witnessed my friends here aiding me in the act of a crime this morning. The pair of you meeting up was a happy coincidence."
It’s not my idea of happy but not a lot is.
I look at the Germans and nod with understanding. Seeing a puzzled look on their faces that tells me they can hear the tinkle, tinkle too and realising it’s not the heavenly choir tuning up before I pay them an unplanned visit suddenly fills me with confidence again. I never thought that would happen while laying on a floor with a swollen jaw and a gun barrel pushed against my head.
"Chinatown’s a good place to hide," I say, stalling once more. "Everyone’s got a different way of representing sounds anyway so it’s the perfect cover. Clever."
"And they’re so good at removing stains downstairs too," he tells me, smirking. I think I’m out of time but Boom-Boom’s suddenly realised that all’s not well with Fritz or Herman here.
The gun’s not digging in so much now while everyone’s straining to pick out that noise so I shout "Now!" as loud as possible and hope I’m right. It might surprise you to know I am sometimes and lucky for me this is one of them.
The door to one side of me plings open, splintering in the frame and showering everyone with slivers of wood. That’s quickly followed by a handful of uniformed policemen who overpower Boom-Boom and my European captors in a short scuffle with only a few distracting honks and beeps.
"You lot couldn’t have made more noise coming up those stairs if you’d tried," I tell them as I’m helped up while nursing my sore face.
"Didn’t seem like it would make much difference," answers Inspector Alliteration who comes in at the rear of my rescuers.
"You’re scum, Inspector. You used me as bait. You followed me knowing my contacts would get results when your ones wouldn’t. Danny The Weasel was killed. I could have been killed too."
"I thought you knew. It’s what you do best, Rake," he says, smiling. "Here, take this." He passes me a bottle of Scotch. I guess it’s from his class. "Remember to add a little water," he adds as he dabs some sweat off his forehead and steps out.
There’s plenty of water outside where it’s still raining so I follow him out and then head off home, whooping through the puddles on the way. Not in a happy way.