Saturday, 17 August 2019

SERIAL PUBLICATION: The Recalcitrant P.I. ~ Chapter Twelve

THE RECALCITRANT P.I.


a Mac Armstrong mystery


 
by


T.F. Pruden


 
Copyright © 2018 by T.F. Pruden
 

All rights reserved. No part of this manuscript may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the author



Twelve


"Evening Ben," Jack nodded to the doorman holding a velvet rope in his veined hand, "is Mac up or down?"

Despite a ten-dollar cover charge on Thursday nights, a line-up waited at the club entrance, though it was not yet ten pm.

"And a good one to you too, Jack," Ben Newberg replied as he unhooked the rope to let him pass, ignoring the outraged pleas from those waiting in line, "you'll find your roomie upstairs."

Jack paused in the bright lit lobby to shake the doorman's hand, returning the powerful grip with a grimace in the shape of a smile.  Mac had roomed with the taciturn Ben, a sharp-witted fellow of prodigious strength despite average dimensions, for several years before marrying Toni.  The men remained close friends, with Newberg serving not only as best man at their wedding but also responsible for landing Armstrong a job at the club.

He was five years the elder of Mac at twenty-nine, a half dozen older than Jack.

"Can I check your coat?" he spoke in a diffident voice.

"Thanks again," Jack replied, "what's the cover?"

Ben handed Jack's coat to an attractive blonde waiting behind a counter.  She exchanged it for a numbered plastic disk.  Ben handed the yellow chip to Jack after shaking his head at the cashier, also waving his other hand to a pair of enormous doormen guarding the entrance to the club's interior.

"Nothing for friends of the house," Ben said, before lowering his voice as the two men turned to the entrance, "say hi to the wife for me and watch out for that shit Mac's smokin', it's badass!"

Jack laughed before answering, lowering his voice while leaning down a couple of inches to speak into Ben's ear.

"I tried it earlier," he said, "hada work the evening shift, gotta cash out in the morning I guess!"

Newberg chuckled in response.

"Hey Teddy," he spoke to the largest of the two men surrounding the club entrance, "can you escort Mr. Zandetzki upstairs to Mac's bar? Thanks again!"

"Yessir," the enormous man replied, "good to see you again Jack."

"Likewise, and thanks again Ted," Jack said, "you're looking sartorially resplendent as usual, I must say."

Theodore Aloysius Reynolds stood six feet tall in size thirteen feet.  Now three weeks into training camp, in the off-season he carried thirty pounds north of three hundred on the wide-bodied frame of a second-year Bison’s offensive lineman.  The comparison most often used when describing the fellow, was that of a coke machine equipped with a head.

Teddy while appreciating the resemblance didn't like it.  To find clothing suited to the extreme requirements of his physique however, presented a significant challenge.  In the routine elegance demonstrated by Jack Zandetzki; a man approximately half his weight though of similar height, he discovered a model after which to pattern his wardrobe.

Though so far, implementation of it showed few signs of success.

"You're keeping well yourself, Jack," the three-hundred-pounder answered with a grin, "love the blazer!"

"Keep up the good work big man," Jack spoke with well-feigned sincerity, "you're looking great!  I can find him on my own from here."

Teddy gave Jack a wink as he lifted the rope blocking a stairway leading to the yet closed upper level of the large night club.  The music pounded as Jack moved past him in semi-darkness, bounding up a pair of short flights to a seating area next to a dance floor.  A bright-lit bar occupied the lengthy back wall of the space, where Mac now readied for a shift soon underway.

Jack waved to him as he topped the stairs.

Mac nodded back.

"Gin and tonic?" he called, barely loud enough to be heard above the rising din.

Jack gave a thumb's up in reply, seating himself on a tall stool as Mac turned to ready his drink.  He noted, to himself with a smile of appreciation, Mac poured the large drink from a bottle taken off the mirrored glass shelf behind the bar.

The liquor gun, home to the cheap stuff, stayed in the rack.

"First one's on me," Mac spoke as he placed the drink onto a coaster in front of Jack with a flourish, "next one's on Leo.  You ready for a hoot?  Gonna open here in just a few, but I gotta get one into me.  Come on, join me for a quick one, your drink'll be waitin' when we get back."

Jack smacked his lips, sighing in relief after a long pull on the tall glass.

"Sounds good," he said, "lead on, bucko!"

Mac slapped him on the back as he moved past after striding with purpose from behind the bar.  His bartending partner Leo, carrying a cash tray in one hand, gave him a high-five with the other as they passed on the way around the dance floor.

"You cashed in?" the slender Leo asked.

"Good to go," Mac replied, "just goin' fer a quick hoot with Jack.  Cya in ten."

"Outstanding," Leo's answer was delivered with a knowing wink, "but I hope you'll save one for after shift."

"Me got you covered, bro!" Mac's reply came with a thumb pointed skyward as he continued around the semi-circular dance floor.

"Hi Jack," the bartender nodded to the roommate, "good to see you."

"Good to see you too Leo," Jack said, "an' it's my gin and tonic behind the bar."

"Got it!" Leonardo answered, "cya wen'ya get back."

The roommates continued past the dance floor, moving in the direction of a DJ booth overlooking the lower floor of the cavernous space.  A second bar, this one proclaiming via neon sign the exclusive sale of shooters, occupied the corner opposite.  A tall brunette, preparing to open it, waved to the men as they passed.

The roommates acknowledged her with matching waves but didn't stop.

Tables with padded chairs surrounding them bracketed the upper dance floor, while booths equipped with benches lined the walls, like upholstered gargoyles in the dim.  Movement in places aside from the dance floor could be accomplished only with difficulty, despite a seeming abundance of square footage.

Mac led Jack down a short hallway behind the DJ booth.  Above a closed door waiting at the end of it a neon sign read 'VIP Room'.  Yet another large doorman stood guarding the entrance.

Mac nodded to the enormous fellow before turning left into a near unlit hallway several steps before reaching him.  Jack followed close behind as only a few paces later he opened an unseen door.

The men stepped out of the club's virtual darkness into a well-lit hallway, empty but for an exit sign at its far-off end.  After closing the door behind him, Jack hurried to catch up as Mac made for the distant sign at going-to-the-pub speed.  Upon reaching it, the men took two flights of stairs to next emerge into a vestibule at the rear entrance of the building.

 Here a young doorman waited in lonely solitude for a door bell’s ring.  When rung by those holding VIP cards, entrance into the club bypassing the line-up out front was assured.  The cover charge remained in effect to those extended this courtesy.  By routine, it was provided to only the biggest spenders.

A single large man, reliably bored while by routine frustrated, from Thursday through Saturday nights would be here positioned.  His task was securing the many hundreds of dollars exchanged for an opportunity to join a party to which he could only listen.

 "Howzit' goin', Cal?" Mac asked the curly headed fellow seated next to the locked steel door.

"Not too shabby, Mac," the two-hundred-eighty pounder, a college-aged power lifter with a face as round as his belly, spoke in a jovial voice, "good to see you too, Jack."

"Goin' fer a hoot Cal," Mac said, "you comin'?"

"No fuckin' way!" Cal replied, "But I'll sure take one after work if you got it."

"Count on it bro," Mac's reply came with a wink.

A moment later, he walked with Jack down the lane a few paces away from the club's back entrance.  Mac lit a fat joint, inhaling deeply before passing it to his roommate.  He coughed lustily before Jack handed the joint back, again tugging greedily on the resinous weed without hesitation.

Jack erupted in a fit of hacking next to him after exhaling a billowing grey cloud into the falling darkness.  After sucking on the doobie, Mac passed it back to his roommate while he recovered from a fit of near doubled-over retching.

A similar routine repeated until the joint was finished.

"That's badass!" Jack spoke first.

"Totally!" Mac replied.

"Can we go in the front?" Jack asked, "I forgot to mention to Ben my date was meeting me here."

"Nah," Mac answered his roommate with a red-eyed grin, "we'll get Cal to radio Teddy at the front, it'll impress her when the lads escort her to meet you at my bar.  Did you tell her to ask for you at the door?"

Mac now leaned his head back to squeeze drops into both eyes.  As he shook them clear he handed the little bottle to Jack.

Jack laughed in delight.

"That’s a hell of a plan bucko!" he said, "and yes, I sure did!"

Jack tended to his eyes before handing the drops back to his roommate.

"Good," Mac replied with eyes now glassy but clear, "let's get back, Leo's probably gettin' swamped upstairs."

After confirming the not unusual plan with Cal, the roommates headed up the back stairs of the club to make their return.  As predicted by Mac, his partner Leo now struggled to keep up with demand caused by opening of the nightclub’s upper level. 

Mac moved with practiced ease through the pressing crowd, heading for the back of the bar while Jack took a seat in front of it.  Jack smiled a moment later when his drink reappeared before him.

He took a long sip, his mouth pasty from the weed.

Jack looked up, a little dazed, to see his roommate smiling at him across the bar.

"You ok?" Mac asked, near shouting to be heard above the increasing volume of the music pounding from the twin dance floors.

Jack grinned back.

"Better!"

Mac winked at him, nodding slightly.

Jack sipped again from the tall glass, staring into the mirror behind the bar with blurred vision.  His date should soon arrive.  The escort was sure to impress her. 

Jack watched his private investigator roommate with casual ease imitate the professional behavior of a nightclub bartender.  It seemed those who worked with him here must be unaware of Mac's day job.

Either that, or they didn't understand the work he did.

Jack understood it too well.

Mac could only be a liability to all who knew him now.  The only one who seemed not to grasp this fact was his roommate.  Poor old clueless Mac, once again the last guy to figure out the pool was empty despite being the first to jump into it.

It seemed to Jack some people were indeed too smart to see a forest despite the presence of many trees.  It could be his old friend Mac, despite an abundance of opportunities to learn otherwise, would prove one of them.

If it should turn out to be so, Mac would need a friend.  Jack decided long ago that come what may, so long as he was around, Mac could count on having at least one.

The way things lately appeared, it seemed inevitable he might soon need it.

He watched in the mirror as Teddy led his date to the bar through the crowded night club, effortlessly clearing people from before them.  Jack nodded to Mac as he slid from his chair to greet the divorcee, at once setting aside the maudlin thoughts.

Everything might go to hell tomorrow, Jack reminded himself with a grin, but shit was happening tonight.