The office door slammed against the wall with a bang, and papers swirled restlessly across the desks of the darkened room. He looked up from his bottle of gin, bleary eyes just registering the figure outlined in the doorway. It was tall, and from the cast of the hips and tucked in-waist silhouetted in the black trench, it was a woman. She stood on black stilettos, and a black snood concealed her hair from view as surely as the netted veil did her face.
"Who is that?" he asked nervously, squinting his eyes. There was a pause, and then the figure moved forward, legs, hips rolling smoothly in an unmistakable way. He paled; rearing back in the chair so that it almost fell. He righted it with a clatter, fingers shaking.
"A ghost?" he breathed, suddenly terrified. Was the moonshine bad? Giving him the jake- was he hallucinating? The black ensemble of the woman suddenly seemed more foreboding than chic. "You...I thought you were dead!"
She moved forward, just inches away from him in the dim lamplight. Slowly, black satin-clad hands lifted up, grasped the edge of the veil, and pulled it back. Her glossy red lips shone in a vulpine smirk in the light.
"I never die. Nine lives, you know." Molly Maltese breathed in her sotto voice. "I've been to the end of the world, my dear, and I've brought back the case to end all cases for you."
The bar was filled with laughter from the drunks. The more drunk people got, the louder they spoke. Marc sat down at the bar. It was late. Every one at the safe house was most likely asleep. "What are ye gettin' laddie?" the bartender asked, with a heavy Scottish accent. "Give me about four fingers of rye on the rocks."
The man nodded. A minute later, his drink was served. "Wait," Marc said as the man was leaving to serve another customer. "I have a question for you." Marc held up an old photograph of Zeo. "Have you seen this man before?" "Who's askin?" The man said staring at the picture. "I am," Marc said. "I'm a private detective and I need to ask him a few...questions."
The bartender nodded. "Aye. I've seen 'em before. Quiet one, this man. He don't say much. Only comes in every now and then. Has a few drinks and leaves."
"You wouldn't happen to know where he's staying, do you?" Marc asked. "I don't know, maybe. My mind's a little fuzzy right now."
That pissed Marc off. He debated pulling his gun out but that would cause a scene. He could try to intimidate the man but that may also cause a scene. His last option was bribery. Every detective hated it but sometimes it worked. He slid the man two dollars.
"I don't know exactly where," the bartender said pocketing the money, "but I heard he stays across town in a small apartment across the street from a jazz club."
"Any name for the club?"
"Could be any one of them. There are four in this town."
"Thanks," Marc said. He finished the last of his drink and paid the man.
He made his way back to the safe house. The door was locked and he didn't have a key. He picked the lock slowly so it wouldn't make any noise. Marc locked the door back and made his way to his room and was asleep before any one noticed he was gone. In the morning, know one would know he had gotten a lead on Josephs whereabouts. The hard part was going to be finding it.
"Ah! Our infamous detective Zeo is finally back!" Jack Billings mocked.
Zeo eyed Billings through his sunken sockets. He drifted, half-crawled across the room to the grand mahonginy desk. His knees finally buckled, and if he wasn't supporting his upper body with his arms with the desk, he would have been kneeling in front of Billings. Zeo locked his jaws tight. He could think of nothing but the narcotic; his dreams were filled with it, but somewhere deep in his consciousness a remnant of dignity stopped him from begging.
"You know what I need," was all Zeo could utter with the strength he had left. Billings signaled the man on his left with a slight of his wrist. Immediately Zeo was given a good dozage of the narcotic. Zeo wasted no time and lit up.
There were at least a dozen henchmen at the basement of Jack Billing's secluded mansion, even this early in the morning. To call it a basement was an understatement. It was more like a vault. The room where they met seemed to be cut out from one giant solid piece of rock, and the door was made of solid steel. Every surface seemed impenetrable. The pictures hung on the walls, as well as the sculptures on display, each piece would worth at least thousands of dollars. Yet, the most valuable asset of all, Nine Lives, was nowhere in sight.
The advantage of jewellry is its ease of storage. It could be in a secret compartment within the room, under the pillow in Jack's bedroom, worn around his neck under his shirt this very moment, or none of the above. Zeo knew that if Molly was to find her lost jewel, the best chance was to retrieve it during the transaction itself.
While Zeo was in his trance Billings wasted no time. Running his usual businesses as if Zeo wasn't there, Billings got his crews to run jobs for him, including a team to check on Molly's safehouse in case they find anything there, which Billings himself doubted. He was also on the phone talking to various people. One conversation in particular caught Zeo's ears. Billings was talking to Curator Carla Kane from the museum. He addressed himself as William Jackson, and they were to meet this coming Wednesday 4pm at the museum office.
This Wednesday afternoon. The deal came through faster then Zeo expected. If Zeo was to meet Molly late Tuesday night as agreed, that would leave them only half a day to prepare. The problem was, there was no way to contact them now that they probably have left the safe house.
"Zeo I need you to fill Theo's spot for the museum deal." Billings suddenly said. "With his injured shoulder he can't shoot a fly. That bloke had been nothing but trouble. I'm telling you again, you should have proceeded with the raid yesterday."
"If I did Theo would have died from bleeding." Zeo replied. Slowly he returned to his normal senses, except he imagined that Billings gave a smirk to his reply... or maybe it was not a hallucination after all.
"My wife is just a distraction now. I need to concentrate on the deal. She'd be no thread to me in two day's time anyway." Billings said smugly. "I've got her picture all over town. She couldn't buy a soda without me notified of it. And if she show up at the deal, I have you to take care of her." Billings grinned and then tossed Zeo another 4 packets. "This is for leading us to her safe house; now she has nowhere to hide. This dosage will keep you sane for 2 days. Come back here early Wednesday afternoon and we'll leave for the museum together."
Zeo said nothing and put the packets away. They felt very heavy in his pocket, but not because of their actual weight.
The broken man returned to his small filthy flat. He haven't slept for a long time, but the saxophonist rehearsing in the jazz club across from him kept him awake. He was forced to think about how everything happened and when it started to spiral downwards. He haven't thought of his lost love and lost daughter for a long time and the knots inside of him ached.
Finally, with the saxophone rehearsing Billie Holiday's 'The Breakdown', Zeo drifted off to a dreamless slumber.
As Vulkie was slashed across the face by the knife that Riza had in her hands, she fell down on the floor. Molly immediately tackled Riza and held her down, while Vulkie felt her face. Blood was flowing out of the wound, and she quickly stood up and went to the bathroom, to get a bandage. Marc immediately rushed after her, to assist with the bleeding. Marc was a known medic in the First World War and he knew what he had to do to stop the bleeding.
After Marc patched Vulkie up, they sat down at the sitting room and had a small drink. "I... I can't believe what Riza was about to do..." Vulkie said. Marc stared in front of him. "I have a suspicion what's wrong with Riza, but I'm not too sure" Marc said. Vulkie stared at Marc. She knew better then to put the pressure on Marc. Marc was a tough cookie when it came to handling pressure, he could take a lot. But that would be ineffective if Vulkie tried to persuade him into telling what was possibly wrong with Riza. Suddenly, Molly walked into the room, while holding Riza at her hand.
"Listen to me, guys.. We have a few problems, and frankly, I don't know what to do next. The best thing we can do is stay here. Joseph and his friends probably will think we moved on towards another safehouse, but that's where they'll be wrong. We just need to be careful about our actions. No one will leave our sight from now on without telling us where they're going. And if you don't like that, there's the door. " Molly said, pointing towards the front door. The silence followed by it verified that the detectives weren't giving up, no matter what happened. "For now, I suggest we take some sleep. The next days will be intense and there might be a chance we can't get any more sleep then now. Vulkie, can you keep watch?" Molly asked Vulkie. Vulkie simply nodded, and she stayed in her chair, while the rest went upstairs to get some sleep..
***The next day, two days left before the meeting***
Vulkie slowly woke up by the ray of sunlight that got out of the curtains and the chirping of birds. "Damn... I fell asleep" Vulkie thought, not knowing what had happened during the night. Riza was the first to enter the room, seating herself across Vulkie, on the couch, with her face buried in her hands.
"I... I don't know where to begin.." Riza began, but Vulkie shushed her and seated next to her. "I can't know what's going on with you, that's something you yourself are responsible for. But we need to stay focused Riza.. We promised Molly that we would help her get that jewel back and take care of Jack, we can't let her down!" Vulkie said, encouraging Riza. She looked with teared eyes at Vulkie and touched the bandage that covered her wound. "I'm so sorry.."Riza said. "Don't worry" Vulkie said, "I always wanted a scar. It makes me look a bit tougher.." she added to it. "It does make you look tougher. You've been through so much, more than a normal person can handle.."Riza said. Vulkie was about to reply, but Molly entered the room and eyed towards Riza, who immediately jumped up and went to the kitchen.
"What's wrong with Riza, Molly. I know you know more. Why are you refusing to tell me?" Vulkie asked. Molly replied bluntly, by saying: "It's Riza's own problem. She took me into confidence, I'm not going to break it. But when the time comes, she'll reveal her "big secret" " Molly said, and with that, she walked into the kitchen..
MONDAY NIGHT: 11:00 p.m.
Marc found the building Joseph Zeo lived in. The hard part about leaving was waiting until everyone was asleep before he could leave. He had to walk at night. Taking the car would cause way too much noise and they would suspect something. But at the moment. No one knew Marc's secret.
He looked at the registry. Marc was surprised to find that Zeo registered with his real name. Room 4. His rattlesnake skin cowboy boots echoed off the floor and walls with each step that he made. Zeo's door was down the hall. About 40 feet from the stairs. He pulled his gun and walked to the door. No need to knock. If Zeo was home he was going to be woken up in the middle of the night. Marc kicked in the door.
WHAM! The door flew in and banged on the wall. The whole apartment was dark but the smell of dirty clothes filled Marc's nostrils and he winced at the smell.
"Zeo? Wake up!" Marc yelled. No answer. Marc turned on a light. The room was filthy. Dirty clothes littered the living room and hallway. The kitchen was full of dirty dishes and plates that were only half empty. A couple of particular plates still had food that had become home to a large group of maggots that would soon become flies.
Dust was caked on the counters and walls. The carpet had stains and walls seemed to have paint chipping off. Marc had never seen Zeo's living conditions go down hill like this. The hall way was dark and Marc found his bedroom. He opened the door and turned on a light. "Zeo?" Marc said aloud. The room was worse than Marc thought. A mattress was on the floor, surrounded by more clothes. The window had a blanket for a curtain and the room had a distinct smell.
It was nearly 1:00 a.m. Zeo would be home anytime. Marc shut off the lights and found a seat in the living room in a recliner. He lit his cigar and waited.
When Zeo walked in, he instantly turned on the light. Zeo jumped when he saw Marc. "Sit down, Zeo," Marc said flatly.
"You got a lot of nerve, showing up here, Marc."
"Shut it!" Marc yelled. He stood up. "You and I need to talk."
Marc grabbed Zeo and threw him down into a chair, then slammed the door shut. The door was broken so he grabbed a kitchen chair and wedged it in the door knob locking it.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Marc yelled. Zeo stared back at Marc in silence. The light was on but Zeo's pupils never retracted like most other people's do. Instead his were still dilated. A sign that Zeo was high.
"Marc," Zeo slurred, "Stay out of this. You dont' need to be involved in something like this."
"Stay out? Was that what that bullet was meant for? For me to stay out of this by blowing my head off? Zeo do you even realize who you are doing business with? Jack Billings won't hesitate two seconds to blow your brains out when he's done using you!"
Zeo stared off in space, mumbling to himself. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his newest buy of drugs.
"I don't think so," Marc said. He reached for the bag but Zeo retracted his arm. "Dont' make me do this the hardway," Marc said.
Zeo hit him hard in the jaw and Marc stumbled. Recovering quickly Marc tackled him and punched him back in the face. He stood up and grabbed Zeo slamming him into a chair then tapped him with tied his hands together with nylon.
He flushed Zeo's stash down the toilet, including some more he found hidden in the dresser and cabinet.
TUESDAY MORNING: 8:00 a.m.
Marc splashed cold water on Zeo's face waking him up. He was finally sobering up. For now. Zeo was tied to the chair.
"Marc? What are you-? Why am I tied to this chair?"
"I'm going to cut your hands free, and when I do, you will not move. We're going to have a chat, you and I."
When Zeo's hands were free, he reached into his pockets, frantically searching for something.
"It's gone." Marc said. "I flushed it all last night. You're going to get off of that stuff. Opium kills you more than bullets."
That was the worst thing you could do to someone who was addicted. Cut them off, cold turkey.
"Smoke?" Marc asked holding out a cigar. Zeo greatly accepted it and Marc lit it for him.
"I need that stuff," Zeo said.
"No you don't. You just think you do."
"I dont' care about Jack! Marc shouted. "I just want to know why you're working with that piece of crap! What happened to you, Zeo? You used to work for the FBI! Now look at you. You're down in the dirt. Addicted to opium and other garbage! Who's side are you really on?"
"I'm on my own side," Zeo snapped.
"Oh really? So were you planning to kill me and Vulkie the other day? Then what? Kill Billings? You're so high right now you couldn't even pull the trigger!"
Zeo looked down. He knew Marc was angry with him. "What are you doing with him!? Molly and Riza were nearly killed!"
"I have a meeting with Molly tonight. You can come to."
"You're not going anywhere tonight. You're not going anywhere until you're sober. And I'm going to make sure of that."
Zeo stood up but Marc grabbed him and slammed him down again. He tied Zeo's hands behind the chair again with the nylon. He sat down and turned on the radio. Through out the day, Marc watched as Zeo's body went through the first set of withdrawals from not having drugs. Marc held the trash can under Zeo's mouth when he vomited. The day passed and soon it was dark. Then it was late. The meeting time passed by.
Marc cleaned himself up in Zeo's bathroom while the man was still sleeping tied to the chair. The previous night had been rough for Joseph but he pulled through. He would still go through withdrawals but not as bad.
Zeo slept soundlessly still tied to the chair. Marc walked back in, stepping over the dirty clothes.
"Wake up!" Marc yelled throwing water on Zeo's face again. "Zeo, I'm doing this for your own good." He untied Zeo's hands.
"Go clean your self up in the shower, and get dressed."
"Where are we going?"
"No where. I'm tired of that smell coming off of you."
Twenty minutes later, Zeo came out of his room. He looked a lot better than he did the last two nights. He sat back down again.
"Zeo you really got to figure something out. Riza can't handle that kind of stress from one of her friends shooting at her."
"What's wrong with Riza?"
"She's pregnant," Marc said. Zeo stared back at Marc and the two men made eye contact.
Marc walked over to the old phone and dialed a number.
"I'm fine. Listen, get Riza out of that house. Down town there is a rundown bar ran by a big loud Scottish guy. Get a room there. I'll be there later tonight. That safe house isn't safe anymore. Jack knows we're there and I got a feeling he's sending people out that way." Marc said.
Joseph was listening but couldn't here what Molly was saying.
Marc hung up. He turned to Zeo. "C'mon," Marc said, grabbing him by his collar and standing him up. "Let's go for a ride."
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