This story contains sexually explicit scenes.
It’d been two days – forty-eight fucking hours – since Moe had seen Mona Dale. He blamed the painkillers for letting him think it was okay to send her out to poke around. He knew first hand that the players in this game were playing for keeps. Yeah, he’d given her step-by-step instructions, but those didn’t account for surprises. Quails like Mona were meant for fluff work, not gum-shoeing. So what if she had bubbled up like bicarbonate when Moe had given her the lowdown. He should have known better.
“I can do this, Moe. I know I can,” she’d said.
“This ain’t backyard cops and robbers, Mona.”
“All I have to do is drop off some laundry, buy a new dress, and get my hair done. I’ve been doing those things half my life.”
“Skip in, snap a mental picture, and skip out. That’s the deal.”
“Yes, Moe.” She’d batted her eyelashes, flashed a crooked grin, and blew Moe a cherry-lipped kiss as she peddled out the door. Only a doped-up bonehead would have let her walk out as easy as if she were going for a weekend visit to a carnival.
One thing was certain – if she wasn’t hurt and she didn’t check in soon, she was going to catch merry hell. He’d waited long enough.
Moe grabbed the newspaper and skimmed through its pages. Peter Schmidt’s death had made the Cincinnati Post, but not the front page. The front page was saved for the World Series: Reds over Tigers. Moe had slept right through the game. Schmidt’s murder was buried on page six under the headline: Cottage Scene of Fatal Stabbing. The newshounds were used to murder in the Over the Rhine area – it rarely made top news any more. Moe was just grateful his name had been left out of the article.
Unfortunately, the police had his name and weren’t letting up. Officer Murphy had made a repeat visit the day before to put the crunch on Moe, insisting Moe give up the name of Schmidt’s screwing partner. Moe Gafferson had a few rules, rules he’d set up a long time ago. Squealing on a client was something he never did. Murphy stuck around long enough for some verbal boxing, but he missed out on the KO he was looking for and left dissatisfied.
Moe spent the rest of his time rehashing the same scenes over and over and coming up with the same finale. Schmidt was using Kitty. The answer to the why and what-for still hung in the air. Maybe Schmidt was trying to get to Dutch. Maybe he was planning to cheat Kitty out of money. Maybe it was something Moe couldn’t fathom just yet. But Moe had no doubt Schmidt hadn’t played Kitty straight.
At least the extra time in bed was giving Moe a chance to heal. As of the morning, he could get to the john to take a leak without any help, which meant no more target practice in a handheld piss pot. And now that the pain in his gut was manageable without pill pushing, Moe figured it was time to kiss this germ hole goodbye – get out and find Mona himself.
Moe tossed off the hospital rags and swung open the door to the closet. He expected to find his gray tweed suit, but the closet was empty. He let loose a couple of expletives that would have had his mother back-handing him. Well, the closet wasn’t completely empty; there was a pair of shoes, the right one covered in blood, sitting on at the bottom of the space. But nothing else, not a stitch of clothing, no keys, no money clip, and no fat envelope from Dutch.
Moe didn’t like petty thieves, even if they wore smart white caps on their heads. He made his way to the hallway, chomping at the bit. “Who’s the goniff that nicked my stuff?”
“Shh’s” came from every direction. It might as well have been a library.
Moe stood up to his full height and let his Johnson dangle freely. “I’m getting out of here, even if all of Cincinnati sees my ass on the way out.”
“Mr. Gafferson, please! You’re not the only sick person on this floor.” This came from the Helga who had been nursing Moe in Mona’s place. It was like exchanging pearls for swine. The broad had more muscle than Moe. She could flip him over like a five-pound bag of flour, and she had more than once in the last two days. Moe backed into his room with the female bruiser jabbing her finger in his chest.
“Mona warned me you’d try to leave before the doctor gave the okay.”
“Where is Mona? Have you heard from her?”
“Just you no never mind, Ellery Queen, and haul that fanny of yours back up in bed.”
Moe felt a pinch in his gut. He knew when to pick his fights. It never paid to argue with a mare that was as big as he was, especially when he was naked as a jaybird. Still, he couldn’t help tangling a little. “You got some news from Mona or not?”
“You’re pesky, aren’t you, Mr. Gafferson?”
“I can be.” He wanted to tell her she was the pesky one, but he zipped his lip. She might power up on him. There was no sense risking a relapse from a wrestling match he could very easily lose.
Helga stood over him while he climbed back into his PJ’s. When he fell back onto the bed, she spoke. “Mona called. Said to tell you that she had to deliver some laundry this morning, and then she’d be right over.”
At least that was something. Mona was all right. He could breathe a little easier.
“But what about the empty closet?” he asked accusingly.
“You play rough, Mr. Gafferson. Your clothes were cut off and discarded when they brought you in. There wasn’t much worth saving.”
So much for his best tweed. “I had some other belongings,” he said.
“Safe and sound in a locked box at the nurse’s station.” She pulled the blanket up tight around Moe’s legs and then jammed the Cincinnati Post into his hands. “Here, read the paper and think about something useful.” This broad didn’t offer suggestions – she gave orders.
Moe thumbed through the Post. It might have helped take his mind off of Mona except for a grainy photograph gracing the first page he looked at. Charles Lindbergh, front and center, was shaking hands with a couple of local politicians. It still grated on Moe that Lindbergh, an American hero, had accepted the Service Cross of the German Eagle from none other than Hermann Goering. Too much of a stinking German connection if you asked Moe. He looked at the smiling faces of the two Cincinnati councilmen. Lousy politicians. At least, he knew who not to vote for in the upcoming election. Moe wadded the paper into a ball and tossed it in the trash. He hated politics. Stewing about Mona was a lot more pleasant.
Sometime mid-morning, after Madame Bruiser had forced another sulfa tablet down Moe’s throat, Mona came strolling in. Moe did a double take. She looked like she’d just stepped off the farm – all fresh faced and lively. She’d ditched her starch whites for a daisy yellow number. Her red hair was rolled stylishly at her temples, and she was carrying an armload of men’s duds.
Moe was still miffed about the ticking clock. “Take the long route to get here, doll?”
“Hello to you, too.” She was way too cheery.
“I don’t have time for frippy-frappy greetings,” he growled.
Mona ignored him and swished casually to the closet. “I figured you for a forty-four regular.” She hung up a plaid Norfolk jacket and a pair of brown trousers – way more fashionable than Moe was used to. She dawdled as she tucked away socks, boxers, and a shirt. She was thorough. Moe would give her that. But he was done watching her stall.
“You’ve kept me in a stew for two days.”
Mona turned around, grinning beautifully. “Sounds like you’re feeling good enough to be a pain in the rear.”
Damn her! Moe wanted to shake her and hug her all at the same time. She was as stubborn as a cowlick. Giving her the third degree would be useless. If she wanted to take it slow, Moe couldn’t do a thing about it.
“I’m not hitting all eights just yet Mona baby, but I’m getting there. How’s your day been?”
“Oh, Moe, you’ll never believe what I found out.” So much for taking it slow – she was about to pop.
“I’m all ears, doll.”
“I went to Chang’s this morning. Only, there isn’t any Chang’s. Or at least there hasn’t been a Chang’s in three months.”
“What? I was there. I saw Kitty enter with a bundle.”
“Well, the building is there, and it still says Chang’s, but there’s a sign on the front door saying it’s closed. I asked a woman nearby, and she said Chang’s had closed down about three months ago. She didn’t know why.”
“Chang’s Laundromat on Elm Street, near Twelfth Avenue?”
“Yes, that’s the one. There’s a Scott’s Pharmacy across the street.”
Moe remembered sitting in front of that pharmacy, watching Kitty take the clothes into the laundromat. She was in there for about ten minutes. And she’d come out empty-handed.
“What about the Curl-n-Go?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s there. Do you like my new hair-do?” Mona turned her head from side to side, bouncing her curls like Shirley Temple. “It cost me a dollar twenty-five. Can you imagine?”
“Call it expenses. I’ll reimburse you.”
“Oh, no. That wouldn’t be right. I had too much fun to ask for money.” Mona sat down on the edge of Moe’s bed. He tried not to think about how close her hip was to his as she continued to talk. “Do you know that just about any gossip in town is being discussed right this very minute at the Curl-n-Go?”
“Such as?” Dames in a salon. Chickens in a coop. It sounded pretty much the same to Moe.
“Well, Margaret’s daughter, Emma Jean was going to have her debutante ball this very month, but the Wilkersons had already grabbed the best day at the American Legion Hall, so Emma Jean was going to wait and have her ball next month in the ballroom at the Golden Lamb.”
“Mona ... ”
“Wait, there’s more. It seems there’s a new hair technique that’s all the rage in Paris where blue dye is added to a woman’s hair.”
“Okay, okay, so it’s on the up and up?
“You mean the blue dye? I think it is.” Mona flashed a set of straight whites. “Oh, you mean the Curl-n-Go? I’m afraid so.”
“Is that all you found out?”
“Not exactly, I think the Wilkerson girl may have the American Legion Hall wrapped up, but she’s still looking for a date. I could toss your name in the hat, if you like. I have another appointment next week.”
“You’re a barrel of laughs, Doll. Maybe Vaudeville has a spot.”
“I guess this means you’d rather hear about Singer’s than how the Wilkerson chit didn’t know enough to invite Mr. and Mrs. Taft?”
“Now you’re getting it.”
Mona shrugged. “Okay, but you can’t get these sort of tips everyday.” She went on to explain that Singer’s was The Ritz. The “it” place, where all those debs wanted to get their one-of-a-kind gowns and none of their mothers were letting them. Singer’s sold sex in satin and silk. A place where Hayworth and Garbo might shop if they were passing through town.
“I asked to see the owner,” Mona said.
“Yes. Maxwell Singer. He’s a short man, balding, wears a monocle. Kind of reminded me of Mr. Magoo.”
“I’m not much of a comics fan. Can we skip the colorful commentary?”
She sighed. “I asked him about a black dress I had seen a woman wearing last week. He clammed up, said he didn’t know anything about the dress I described. I explained the woman had gushed about getting the dress from Singer’s and how it was made especially for her. He insisted the woman must be mistaken.” Mona chewed on her bottom lip. “Then Maxwell slipped up.”
“He insisted that Mrs. Winslow did not get the dress at Singer’s.”
“He used her name?”
“Yeah. I had never mentioned it.” She clapped her hands together. “Isn’t this exciting?”
“What happened next, doll?”
“I figured I’d better make it look like I was really interested in a dress, so I milled around, tried on a black crepe and decided on an undergarment. Mr. Singer stayed right near me.”
“Wait, there’s more. When I was walking to catch the trolley coach, the sales clerk, Lois, caught up with me. She was hurrying and kept looking back over her shoulder. She told me she remembered Mrs. Winslow, and she remembered the dress: a slinky black silk with no back, just as I’d described. She said it was the second time a woman had come in and picked up such a dress in the last four months. Lois remembered Mr. Singer had insisted on handling it personally.”
“Lois seems kind of chatty.”
“Apparently Mr. Singer can be a real high-hat, always putting on airs. It seemed to please Lois to catch him in a lie.”
“She give you anything else?”
“She also remembered the man that had delivered the dress. He seemed out of place, not their regular sort of gentleman patron.”
“Out of place? How?”
“He was rough-looking with a scar on the right side of his face. The scar ended near his eye. Oh, and she said his clothes were off the rack.”
Peter Schmidt’s clothes would have screamed tailor-made. And he didn’t have a scar. “Is that it?”
“Not quite. Lois said Singer had called the guy Rolf.”
Lois was quite the canary. Rolf, huh? Moe didn’t know anyone by that name, but he’d put a nickel down that this Rolf was handy with a blade. Moe was still moving like a bicycle in snow, but it was definitely time to hit the road. And thanks to Mona, he had a some place to start.
“You’ve done a lot, dollface. I owe you.”
“It was exciting.”
Moe glanced at Mona. He could see she meant it. Her eyes danced and her cheeks flushed crimson. He was going to have to put the skids on her enthusiasm.
“It’s time for me to dust out, Mona.”
“But the doctor ... ”
“I’m done listening to that croaker.”
Moe scooted to the opposite side of his bed and stood up, taking a minute to gather his strength. Mona sat regally on the bed. Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap. Under the fluorescent lights, glints of gold shimmered in her red locks. A man could get hypnotized. She didn’t look at Moe.
“You shouldn’t go. Give it one more day,” she whispered.
“No can do, doll.”
She looked at him then with green eyes the color of spring corn. “At least, let me help you.”
“Mona, I’m grateful for everything you’ve done.” Moe paused, remembering the way Mona had slid her mouth over his cock – slippery, warm and complete. Yeah, a man could easily fall under her spell if he wasn’t careful. “And I mean everything.”
She swallowed hard and looked away. “I’m a big girl, Moe, I can take care of myself.” When she looked back again, her face was redder than ever. “And I fuck who I want, when I want.” Moe wondered if he’d ever get used to a dame that blushed tomato red but could swear like a sailor.
“I’m a one-man operation, Mona. And the stakes are too high to make changes now.”
Moe expected her to plead her case, but she didn’t. She just shrugged her shoulders.
“What about those stitches?”
“What about them?”
“They’ll need to come out.”
Moe absently rubbed along his gut where the stitches were itchy. “I got some scissors and mercurochrome in the medicine chest at home.”
Mona rose up from the bed and slinked over to Moe. Close enough for Moe to inhale her fragrance and feel her body heat. She cupped his hand with hers and spoke softly in his ear. “I could make a house call in a day or two to make sure things shape up like they should.”
How could a man refuse an offer like that?
Later, as Moe eased himself out of the backseat of the hack that had brought him home to his small office, he wondered about the wisdom of agreeing to Mona’s proposal. Gilbert Avenue was a long way away from any place a dame like Mona might be from. When Mona opened her windows on a clear, autumn night, she probably heard crickets and smelled fresh mown hay. If you left a window open around Moe’s neck of the woods, you were more likely to hear Moe’s neighbor, Willy Scottsdale, fucking the brains out of Netty Scottsdale, unless Willy had hit the bottle too high again and Netty was cussing a blue streak. And the smell, well, the paper mill a couple blocks over out-mustered any other odor that might try to stink up the air. Yeah, this side of the tracks might be a rude awakening for Mona. But it was home to Moe.
He had settled in there a year and a half ago. The rent was cheap and the layout served his purpose. The front space was his office. The back was where he slept. With the money Dutch had given him, Moe might think about getting a refrigerator.
The hack drove away and Moe wobbled like baby at his front door. The key didn’t work right away. He had to jiggle it, pull it out, and then reinsert it. It was one of those events that should mean nothing, but the hair on the back of Moe’s neck bristled. The lock finally gave in, and the door popped open like the building was inhaling and sucking the door down its throat. Dust particles floated in a ray of light that filtered through the opposite window. Moe’s desk was just as he’d left it nearly a week ago – two empty coffee mugs, a pile of unopened bills, and the file he’d started on Kitty Winslow.
Nothing was out of place. Nothing except Moe’s monogrammed letter opener and one of the couch cushions. Instead of filling out the couch, the cushion was propped upright in Moe’s desk chair. And piercing its middle was the letter opener. The slice ran from edge to edge, and ribbons of horsehair spilled out onto the floor.
Rough Cut originally appeared in Ruthie’s Club http://www.ruthiesclub.com/
Copyright © 2004 by Desdmona.