Monday, February 23, 2009

Return to the Dark City

[The two previous installments in my noir detective series are here and here. With the publication of Joe Gores' Spade and Archer, a prequel to Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, it seemed like an opportune time to finish the, uh, series. - RJ]

The roar of the gun got my attention, and I snapped my eyes open. It wasn’t my Webley, and I didn’t feel dead, so something must have gotten in the way of Lucky Maranzano’s plans to kill me.

Maranzano lay dead on the dirty ground, a hole in the back of his head leaking blood and brain tissue. He didn’t look terribly lucky. I scooped up my Webley, and the silver .45 that had been used to send Maranzano to the next life, the piece still warm and stinking of gunpowder.

My still breathing was a break for me, but now it was time to make my own luck. Whoever killed Maranzano didn’t have orders to kill me, which made me wonder: was this whole thing a double setup? Maranzano had lured me to the dark city by hiring a woman to pose as a client who wanted me to look for her missing daughter. Now it appeared as though someone lured Maranzano here to kill him. Only one man was bold enough to take on the lord of the dark city – El Espiratu, The Ghost. No one knew what he looked like, but he controlled almost as much territory as Maranzano had, and he was in a mood to expand.

Last night had brought a wind storm to the city, and the streets were still covered with a fine layer of dirt and grit. I tracked the shooter through the disturbed layer of grime until I had returned nearly to my starting point – the warehouse. I felt as though this case had come full circle, too.

The area behind the warehouse was choked with weeds, and the only possible hiding place was a silver trailer.

“Come out, El Espiritu,” I called, tightening my grip on the .45 in my left hand. The gun felt as heavy as a cannon, and packed an equivalent punch.

The door opened and a woman emerged – my phony “client.” I must have looked astonished. The dame smiled as she raised her own .45 – they must have come as a matched set – and said, “Actually, it’s El Espirita, as you can plainly see.”

“I appreciate you taking out Lucky. He didn’t seem to be fond of me.”

“You’re welcome. I had hoped you would just leave, and I wouldn’t have to kill you, too. We ladies have to stick together.” Her finger tightened on the trigger.

In an instant I raised my gun. The weapon roared, and El Espirita was flung backward, into the side of the trailer. I walked forward, gun still raised, in case the first bullet had not finished the job. It had.

I looked at her dead eyes and said, “Sorry, but I’m no lady.”

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