“Hey, this isn't right!” The nearby wino just glanced at me talking to myself. He raised his bottle in a toast and took a swig on my behalf. I looked at the boarded up buildings and the flickering neon lights. If this weren't real life, I'd swear I stumbled onto a film noire set. As if on cue, rain began to fall to further worsen the ambiance.
“Something wrong, sir?” I turned around and discovered I was staring into the adam's apple of a local cop.
“Um, no officer. A friend told me that there was a Drowning Pool concert here tonight.”
“Well, maybe he got the wrong night. Why don't you call him? If you don't have a cell phone, there's a coffee shop right around the corner. You shouldn't stay here though.”
“I can't call him. I only met him on the internet.”
“You were meeting a man from the internet here?”
“No, it's not like that. Stocken and I play chess together. Really. He's not like, well, OK he could be, but I'm not so it's a moot point.” Suddenly I heard tires squealing as a car raced around the corner.
“Sir, you really don't want to stay here. Maybe you'd be better off getting in your car and going home. Go chat with your on-line friend.”
“Officer, he's not ... geez ... so what's so bad about this place? Looks kind of empty and decrepit, but nothing some paint and urban renewal wouldn't fix.”
“This is where the Thai prostitutes hang out. Problem is, one or more of them gave the clap to Gino Scanella and a few of his boys. They're not in a very good mood at the moment. You don't want to be here should they decide to show up tonight.”
“Ah. OK.” I started to walk away and glanced down the alley that the wino was guarding. WTF? I looked again. At first I thought it was a child, but no, it was a midget. She looked exotic, but it could be the rain or the film noir lighting. I started to walk closer, but was stopped by the wino.
“That's Abhasra,” he said perfectly clearly.
I stared at him. “Must not be very good stuff you're drinking!”
“Gatorade, actually. Nastier than booze, if you ask me! Anyway, she's a ... working girl. Gino's favorite, actually. We're pretty sure he actually got the clap from his wife, but no one wants to be the one to tell him that.”
“Is she a ...”
“Midget, yes. Now split. You should know that Gino doesn't understand the concept of innocent bystanders.”
I took his advice and stopped into the coffee shop, noting the skid marks at the intersection.
It was fairly easy to overhear the conversations in the booth from where I sat at the counter.
“Yeah, they said he was so desperate he attacked a convent where he thought they were hiding the hookers!”
“You're kidding! Why would nuns hide prostitutes?”
“I don't know, but three of them are dead now!”
“Why didn't he check the massage parlour? I swear half of Thailand is hanging out at that place!”
“Because it's next to McDonald's. Ever since he got the trots from their McRib sandwich, he avoids the place like the plague. Speaking of runs, did you see the Brewers game last night?”
The rest of the conversation was boring, so I finished my coffee and left. I hailed a cab and had him take me to the mall. I was done with gloomy scenery and needed something well lit and cheerful. After stopping at the Barnes & Noble to get a copy of Chess Openings: Traps And Zaps, I went back into the mall's madness and got out my cell phone.
“Gino? It's me. A bunch of them are hiding in the massage parlour. But there's one in the alley, a midget. A cop disguised as a wino is keeping an eye on her.” I hung up and called another cab. I wasn't going to be the one to tell him about his wife either.