I came to on the concrete floor behind the store. I rubbed my head where the sledgehammer had come down – at least, that’s what it felt like. A bump the size of an egg was still there, but my skull seemed to be intact. They had taken my piece, as well as my cash, but had left me my lucky fedora.
Someone didn’t want me to find my client’s daughter, but I had taken the lady’s money. If I gave up that easily, I’d be out of business next week. I needed to find her, fast. And what was a “ponygirl” anyway? Things weren’t adding up.
I looked around – the store was enclosed by a high wall, topped with barbed wire. The store owners sure seemed worried about shoplifting. It appeared that the only way out was through the store again, but I found the hospitality inside sadly lacking. Fortunately, the goons who hit me and took my gun didn’t search too thoroughly. From an inside pocket I retrieved a small grapple – part of the private dick’s tool kit, and invaluable at times like these. Throwing it over the wall, I made my way carefully up the rope and over the barbed wire, thanking goodness for bloomers.
Having made my escape, I looked over the town. The place was deserted. From the subway to the diner to the high-rises to the brownstones – nada. Where could the population be? It was almost as though… no, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be a coincidence that the city was empty. And only one person had the ability to empty a city so completely: my old nemesis, the biggest slumlord of them all, the man who started as hired muscle for a shakedown racket and stole his way into millions of dollars…
…Lucky Maranzano. I had helped send him to prison once before, but an appellate court he owned reversed the conviction. Now he was only a few feet away from me – holding my gun. “Nice to see you again, Jameson. On my turf this time.”
“I wish I could return the complement, Maranzano. Thanks for finding my gat, though.”
He looked at the pistol as though he didn’t know how it had found its way into his beefy hand. “Oh yeah, this little guy. I got plenty of guns, but I thought maybe it would be ironic or something if I killed you with your own gun.” “
I’m not sure that’s what ‘irony’ means. You see, something is ironic if it conveys the opposite meaning of what is intended or expected. Killing me with my gun is just…sad.”
He mulled that over. “Sad? Okay, I can live with sad. Geez, you learn something new every day, doncha?”
Comprehension finally came to me. "There never was a missing girl, was there, Maranzano? My client was another one of your stooges, pretending to be the mother of a missing child."
Moving his face to create a smile with no warmth, the thug replied, "Just now figuring that out, are you?"
We stood on the deserted street, not ten feet from one another. The wind whipped at my back and I could feel the temperature fall with the deepening night. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear alley cats snarl. At that moment, I never felt more alive – which, speaking of irony, was pretty ironic, considering my life expectancy could be measured in seconds. I closed my eyes as I heard the metallic click of the gun cylinder moving into place.
(To be continued?)