Cold Streets Chapter 2

The building housing my nightclub took up its own small block. Once in a while I had to remind myself that this was indeed my place. So what if the bankroll had come from stolen mob money? I'd more than earned it, washed it clean, and was an honest, taxpaying citizen, or so my accountant assured me. People treated me like I was important and called me Mr. Fleming. Stuff like that made me stand straighter to fill the role.

A wreck when I found it, I'd turned a burned-out hulk into a palace. Since opening last summer, business had been good enough to put a down payment on the next structure over, which had been empty for years and likely to stay that way. I had that knocked flat and paved into a much-needed parking lot. The only complaint I ever got from customers was over where to leave their cars. I grumbled, on occasion, myself, but no more. The expense of the lot had been worth it the first night I glided my Buick into its own specially reserved space. So far, the satisfaction had yet to wear off. It always put me in a cheerful mood no matter what awaited inside the front door.

Tonight it was the smile of greeting from the doorman, the hatcheck girl who took my things away to the cloak room, and the bartender standing at his post behind the lobby bar. I smiled back, stepping into the tall, wide space with its polished marble floor and touches of gleaming chrome trim. On the wall opposite the entry, marking the route to the main room and stage, was the larger-than-life portrait of Lady Crymsyn herself. Deigning to smile mysteriously down at lesser mortals from her canvas perch, she was the figurehead for the club, giving customers someone to focus on that wasn't me. A few thought she must be a real person, the true owner of the place hiding behind a stage name. There was no reason to disabuse them of the notion; it made for good business to keep them guessing. On special occasions I hired a look-alike actress to put on a red dress identical to the one in the painting and mingle with the crowds. Believers and those who knew better loved the gimmick.

The second show was nearly over; it would soon be time to close out the registers and count the receipts. When I first opened, I had an excellent general manager to sort out those important details. He left town, though, and I'd still not found quite as competent a replacement. One of the bartenders took on some of the run-of-the-mill tasks like ordering supplies, another man saw to the building maintenance, and a girl I knew who was a genius at accounting came in three times a week to keep the books straight. Still, there was always a big stack of paperwork and decisions only I could see to, which often meant scarce free time to play host, my favorite part of the job.

Real work could wait though; the band was into a hot number backing a woman's strong voice. I passed under the portrait, going into the red-velvet depths of the main room. About a quarter of the tables were occupied-busy for this late on a weeknight-people were on the dance floor trying to keep up with the fast rhythm the drummer had set. It seemed like business as usual and felt like home sweet home. I couldn't have pulled the smile off my face with a tow truck.

It turned into a grin (no doubt on the sappy side) when I spotted Bobbi Smythe, the number-one woman in my life. For a change she wasn't belting out the song onstage but directing the show. Instead of a spectacular sparkly gown, she wore a plain dark suit so as not to detract from the current star. Not that she didn't look great; in a potato sack she was a stunner. It made no difference to me.

Whatever clothes she wore never failed to inspire in me an overwhelming urge to help get her out of them.

She was at the bar across the room, watching the singer and likely thinking of ways to improve the staging. Bobbi had initially begun booking acts and directing to help out at the club's grand opening and developed a real taste for it. Once she got herself noticed enough by the right people, she had plans to sing and act in Hollywood, though. She'd been brushing close to it for over a year now; with her talent, it was only a matter of time.

I tried never to think about that. It made my heart hurt.

She glanced toward the doorway, spotted me, and raised a hand in greeting.

The way the place was laid out, everyone could see newcomers, a design I'd purposely worked into the plan of the room. Some customers were more comfortable sitting with their back to a wall, having a view of the door, so I obliged them. The booths were set out on three levels in a wide horseshoe shape marching down to the dancing and stage area. Plenty of walls to go around for everyone.

I took stairs to the topmost level, which was empty. Bobbi came up from the opposite side, meeting me in the middle for a big kiss and hug.

"You're feisty," she observed when she surfaced for air. "Does that mean good news?"

She knew all about the kidnap case. "The best. Over, done, happy ending." I had a bear hug left in me yet and lifted her up, slow dancing in a circle while her heels dangled. She made an oofing sound but no other protest.

"Good, I was getting tired of that long face you kept making." Feet on the floor again, she drew me toward an empty booth. "Gimme."

Okay, I was as fond of necking in the back row as any other red-blooded guy, so...

"Not that!" she fiercely whispered, squirming and trying not to giggle lest we upstage the singer.

"I know." I reluctantly turned back into a gentleman again but couldn't shake the smirk.

"Tell me what happened on the case," she said, clarifying the vague "gimme"


I told her, keeping it short, light in tone, and modestly heroic. With the danger past and the pressure off, I even felt heroic about having rescued the maiden and captured the villains. No one else would ever hear of my derring-do, but it didn't matter, not when Bobbi looked at me like I was Galahad and Tarzan rolled into one.

"You should use that stuff for one of your stories," she suggested when I finished.

I shrugged. "Charles seemed to think the gang saw a movie and stole the plot.

It's probably already been written into a book. Just about everything else has."

She patted my hand sympathetically. I harbored forlorn hopes of turning myself into a fiction writer but had so far failed to sell anything or work on much lately. Maybe those years of hammering out news copy when I'd been a reporter tapped me dry. I was also damned busy running the club, and so on and so forth.

One of these nights I'd get tired of hearing my own feeble excuses and get back to wordsmithery in earnest. But not tonight.

"The show going well?" I asked. "Adelle's in fine form."

"She's always better for the second set, warmed up. Once she gets the measure of the crowd she plays 'em like a banjo."

Adelle Taylor, one-time silent movie comedienne, now a well-known radio actress, could put a song across and then some. She had a great voice and would have done well when the talkies came in, but by then she had grown tired of getting hit in the kisser with pies. There was also her looks. Nothing wrong with them, she was a classic beauty and kept herself trim, but Hollywood scripts rarely had a part, good or bad, for a woman in her thirties. Adelle read the writing on the wall and skipped over to stage work, where lighting and makeup could take off the years, and to radio, which didn't care how you looked. I'd heard her play Juliet and Lady Macbeth equally well.

She had a local following of admirers I'd hoped to lure through Crymsyn's doors, so she was booked for the week-nights, leaving her free on weekends for radio work. Then I advertised big. The ploy seemed successful; new faces appeared at the tables, perhaps to become regulars. When not sidetracked by Escott's cases, I did my best to assure that by personally greeting as many as I could when they first came in the lobby. A handshake, a smile, a look straight into their eyes with a confident statement they would enjoy themselves had done much for my business.

I cheated, of course, using hypnosis to plant the suggestion. Not a lot, just a gentle nudge. If customers had a good time, they'd return for more. My conscience was only a little tarnished. The only time I really dirtied it up was the night an entertainment reporter came in to do a review. I made sure he loved the place and consequently got a great write-up in his paper. All's fair in love and liquor sales.

The supernatural edge was probably why I had a decent house even on weeknights. An astonishing number of other clubs in Chicago needed slot machines, tables, and other illegal advantages in their back rooms to stay alive. I could have made a hell of a lot more profit taking their road but didn't want the bother of cop raids during election years and payoffs the rest of the time.

Speaking of those clubs, the owner of the Nightcrawler was seated on the lowest tier of the horseshoe, closest to the stage. You couldn't miss Gordy Weems; he was like the portrait out front, built on a larger-than-life scale. He'd been squiring Adelle Taylor around town since summer, having snagged her on the rebound when something bad caught up with her last escort that took him out of her life. She'd been bruised by the experience, but had apparently found in Gordy a bit more than just a massive shoulder to cry on. He was pretty well gone for her.

Despite the fact he was one of the major names in Chicago's mobs, he proved a remarkably stable influence.

It was odd, though, that he should be here, even to catch Adelle's act. He had his own place and a lot of other businesses to run; usually you couldn't blast him out of the Nightcrawler. He was always there. Period. His bodyguards were scattered at surrounding tables, so this wasn't a spur-of-the-moment outing for him. He had company along.

"Who's the guy with Gordy?" I asked.

Bobbi barely looked at him, as though to remind herself of someone she'd already seen but forgot was there. "I don't know. Probably mob. Generally is with Gordy. They came in an hour ago. Adelle sat with them a while, then had to do her set. They've been talking nose-to-nose a lot. The guy likes whiskey straight, and Gordy's kept even with his usual."

Which was tonic water and a shot of lime. Some kind of business was afoot, then. He never drank when he worked, but why here instead of his own place?

Maybe he needed my special talents. It wouldn't be the first time. I didn't mind.

His mob authority made mine one of the few joints in town exempt from paying the usual protection money. He owed me a few big favors but was also a friend. I was always ready to lend him a hand and vice versa.

"Guess I better find out if I'm supposed to be there."

"He'd have sent one of the boys for you then," she said with a nod toward the bodyguards. "They would have seen you coming in."

"True." If it concerned me, I'd be notified. For now, I was more than content to relax in a booth with my arm around Bobbi. "How's the night been in general?"

"Good business, about half a house. We lost a few between shows. Some people have regular jobs in the morning. The whole band remembered their instruments and showed up on time, even that drummer who's usually late."

I smiled.

She caught it. "Jack... did you do anything?"

"I had a little talk with him." It left me with a headache afterward because the man was fond of drink, but some of my influence must have seeped through the booze into his brain. He seemed bright and sharp of eye tonight.

"What kind of talk?"

"Just a recommendation he go easy on the bottle and pay attention to his job so he could keep it."

"Must have been some kind of recommendation."


Her lids went to half-mast. It made her more cute than threatening. "Uh-huh. I thought you weren't going to risk messing up peoples' lives with that Svengali stuff."

"You think he's helping himself much?"

"No, but the road to hell and all that."

"It's only temporary. He can get himself sober and stay that way with my help, but unless he wants it on his own, it'll eventually wear off. I can't change a person's basic nature; that's up to him. The door's open, though."

"So long as you're not too disappointed if he doesn't go sailing through it."

I lifted a philosophical hand. "No skin off my nose. After all, I only throw myself off bridges in the line of duty."

She quirked one corner of her luscious mouth. "Ain't that the truth and a half?"

I'd told her about my hurtling ride over the railing with the ransom suitcase.

The band played on; Bobbi announced she had things to look after backstage and went off to track them down. I had work as well, helping to close out the lobby register and send the doorman home. The hatcheck girl had her area in order, ready to go when the last customer came to collect. The bartender had everything cleaned up except for a dark red stain on the floor behind the bar.

Nothing would ever clean that.

Years ago when this place was a different kind of a hot spot for booze, it became the site of a mob war skirmish. Someone lobbed a grenade through the front door, and a lady bartender named Myrna caught shrapnel in the throat. She dropped in her tracks and bled to death. The stain behind the current bar marked the spot where she'd fallen and died.

My maintenance man had chiseled out and replaced the tiles several times, but they'd always stain again in the same pattern. We finally gave up. Vampires I believed in, but never ghosts. Myrna's sanguinary presence in the club had changed my mind.

"Any problems?" I asked the bartender, Wilton. He was the only one in the joint willing to work the front alone. Oddball things went on here, but he didn't mind. Jobs were scarce, and not having a pay envelope was more frightening to him than going partners with a ghost.

"She keeps switching the vodka with the gin," he said, jerking his chin at the rows of bottles lining the thick glass shelves. "Trying to be funny, I guess."

"Maybe that's how she kept them when she was alive. Try leaving them in place."

"I did. She switched them back."

Myrna had a sense of humor. "Anything else?"

"She sliced up some lemons. I had them set out with the knife, got busy, and when I went back, they were all ready in their bowl. What gets me is I never see any of that happening."

"Shy girl. It bother you?"

"Nah. I kinda like the company. I been-don't laugh, okay?-but when no one's out here, I talk to her sometimes."

"Makes sense to me." I talked to her, too.

I'd gotten Myrna's name from a young woman who impersonated Lady Crymsyn for special events and shows. Along with being an actress she was also psychic and rattled on about mystical type stuff in the same matter-of-fact tone other people used when commenting about the weather. She was used to dealing with ghosts and assumed others were the same. Escott dated her for a while, but I don't think he was too easy with that facet of her talents. Hypocrite. He could share his house with a vampire but got cold feet with a ghost-seeing girl.

"How are you, Myrna?" I asked.

No response. One of her favorite gags was to flicker the lights or turn them on and off, which is what I half-expected to happen.

"She must be someplace else," said Wilton.

We counted money and totaled tabs and tips. He signed out, gave me a list of supplies we'd need, and left for the night. I wrote the numbers on a clipboard, bagged the cash, and went upstairs to my office. Just as I turned the doorknob, the lights inside came on for me.

"Funny girl," I said to the empty air.

I'd done myself right with this room, making it comfortable. Most of the time I was allergic to paperwork, but nice surroundings reduced the symptoms. Bobbi had picked out a couple of the luxury touches like the heavy, light -blocking curtains and an extra-long sofa but hadn't gone overboard with pillows and frills.

Some club offices looked like a brothel parlor; I didn't want that. Besides, fancy stuff didn't combine well with multiple locks and bolts on the steel door or the wire-meshed, bulletproof glass of the windows. The room was as secure as a giant safe because occasionally I'd sleep the day through on the sofa. When the sun was up I was dead-or something close to it-and thus vulnerable. In that state I need all the sanctuary I could afford.

I shoved the money bag into a safe disguised to look like a drawer-front on my massive desk, locked up, and returned to the main room. I put the light out myself, thinking Myrna wouldn't mind.

Adelle had finished her set, taking her last bow to applause. She threw a smile at Gordy and went backstage. He was still busy with his friend, who didn't appear too friendly now that I got a good look at him. A wide man with a red face, pronounced jowls, and a bad haircut, his suit was on a level with his hair, the coat too narrow for his frame so it stretched tight across his shoulders.

Some kind of serious dealing was going on with them. They both seemed tense. I walked past, but Gordy didn't give any high sign to come over, his focus on the man.

Fine with me; I could ask him later or maybe find out what Adelle knew. She'd be in her dressing room. The band had two more numbers, a moderately fast dance, followed by a slow swing version of "Good Night, Sweetheart," which told the customers the place was about to close. Some of them were already settling money on the waiters, gathering up to leave.

I took the long away around to get backstage. There were four dressing rooms here, men on the left, women to the right, each side sharing its own small toilet and shower in between, an unheard-of luxury for the talent. Bobbi had helped with the layout, insisting the expense would be worth it. She had plenty of show biz know-how and knew what was needed, so I gave her a free hand. Since the opening the artists had only wild praise about their accommodations. I finally got it: that if they were happy, they'd make the audience feel the same.

Adelle had the celebrity room, a red-painted door no different from the other three, close to the stage with the number one engraved into a chrome star mounted at eye level. A slot beneath had a card with her name on it in curlicue writing.

Come the weekend, someone else's name would be in place, but for now she was queen of the show.

Her door was wide open, and I heard her inside, apparently with a guest. "Oh, for crying out loud," she exclaimed, sounding pleased.

Her back was to me as I came even with the opening. She'd plastered herself to the body of a tall, strongly built man, kissing him like tomorrow didn't matter. He returned the favor with interest, his arms wrapped tight around her, hands firmly cupping her butt.

I kept going and hoped Gordy stayed the hell out front.

The band finished their last number and began packing instruments and filing out, passing me where I stood just inside the red velvet stage curtains. I had a nod and smile for them, a word of thanks, good nights, and see ya laters, all the time with my brain churning over Adelle's little love scene.

I'm in favor of affection of most kinds, and had it been anyone else, I'd have shrugged it off, since this was none of my damned beeswax, but she was Gordy's steady date. Though he was a good friend, I didn't know him well enough to guess how he'd react to her running around on him. The way that kiss had gone, there was no chance the handsome guy could have been a long-lost relative, not unless Adelle came from one seriously unhinged family.

I pressed the button that drew the curtains. They rattled smoothly along their tracks. Another high-hat expense, but otherwise I'd have had to pay some union man to do it manually. Once they were shut, I slipped out front by way of the side stage stairs, crossing the dance floor. All the customers had departed except for Gordy, his guest, and the bodyguards. The grim discussion was still going strong.

The last bartender and a couple waiters who were stacking chairs on the upper-tier tables looked toward me. They were familiar enough with Gordy's face and reputation to give him a wide berth, but at the same time they wanted to close things out and go home. I motioned them to come down, meeting them at the bar on the far side of the room.

"We'll shut out the register," I said. "If those guys want anything more, I'll take care of it. You know what they're talking about?"

"No, sir," one waiter volunteered. "Don't wanna know, either."

I chuckled once so they could see I wasn't worried. It only reassured them a little. They felt better once their tips were divided and they could escape out the rear exit, following the band.

The bartender and I did the final money count, then he gratefully left as well. I wanted to go backstage again and find Bobbi but had to park myself here until Gordy finished his talk. The staying open later than usual didn't bother me; whatever Adelle was up to in her dressing room did. Fortunately, Gordy was too involved to go look for her.

With everyone gone, it was nearly quiet enough for me to listen in on him, even at this distance over the hum of the beer cooler. They kept their tone low and droning, though. I caught a few words, but not enough to figure out what they were talking about.

Then Bobbi emerged from backstage. She'd probably been having her nightly chat with the band leader about tomorrow's music. She had company with her, a petite, elegantly slender woman dressed to the nines, with some tens and elevens mixed in. If Bobbi hadn't possessed a strong presence of her own, she'd have looked like a dowdy shop girl in comparison. The woman had white blond hair under her velvet hat, which sported a diamond-crusted pin holding spiky feathers.

Matching bracelets were on one black-gloved wrist; the other was hidden inside a fur muff. A thick fox fur lay around her shoulders like a safari kill. There was a very exotic cast to her face, high cheekbones, full lips, long, dark, slanted eyes.

She had a stately walk, chin elevated like royalty. You went at her speed or you went away.

Bobbi seemed immune to that inherent command, going at her usual sprightly bounce, yet both women arrived at the bar at the same time. I wondered how they did that.

"Jack, this is Faustine Petrova." Bobbi's expression telegraphed that I should overdo the manners.

I came around the bar to take Faustine's regally extended hand. In no wise could I convincingly bow and kiss it. Only Escott could get away with that, so I settled for a gentle double shake and release, adding a nod and welcoming smile.

"A pleasure. How do you do?"

"Berry veil, t'ank you," she replied in a rich contralto, lips carefully outlining each word, teeth showing.

"Miss Petrova was a member of the Moscow Ballet not long ago, but decided to leave," Bobbi explained.

"Eet vas pol-i-ticks, my dear. Peasants who think they know daun-ce."

Faustine Petrova sniffed her disdain. "Now because of that Austrian 'ouse painter an' that pig of a fascist train conductor, there is no place in all Europe safe for the true ar-teest."

I didn't know if the accent was real or not, but I could listen to it for hours.

"Yes, things are very miserable over there."

"Indeed. Zo I come to vonderful Amer-i-ka in hope to be free to do az I pleaze. Eet iz a great country." Her approving gaze swept around the interior of the club, as though it embodied the best of corn-fed, homemade ideals.

"I won't argue with that, Miss Petrova."

"An' zo, in the spirit of all t'ings good in my new 'omeland, for verk I am look-ink."

"Indeed?" I glanced at Bobbi for enlightenment, having no idea what the hell kind of "verk" I could provide a ballerina in my joint. The hot jazz, blues, and swing I showcased wouldn't mix well with her kind of training.

Bobbi's eyes sparkled. "Miss Petrova is here with her partner, Roland Lambert. They do exhibition dancing, specialty number stuff."

Faustine lifted a lazy hand, palm up. "Eet pays the rent."

That kind of act I might be able to use, depending how good they were. "Well, the band's gone now, so an audition isn't possible-"

"I've already seen them," said Bobbi. "They're terrific, like Astaire and Rogers but at a higher temperature. They know what they're doing."

I trusted Bobbi's shrewdness about all things related to the stage. "I suppose we can work out a contract, do a trial run for a week, and see how it goes. You know the requirements?"

Faustine nodded. "Daun-cing wit' the customers after show. I have no problem wit' that. Neither does Roland. I enjoy mingl-ink wit' the people. Amer-i-kans are zo charm-ink."

It was too much for me to picture her bouncing a fast fox trot with some Midwestern businessman in search of a foreign thrill, but if she didn't mind, I was willing to give it a try. "When do I meet your partner?"

"Roland's backstage," Bobbi answered for her. "He's old friends with Adelle."

Really close old friends from the look of things, if he was the man I'd seen with her.

"He heard she was here and decided to look her up. We all got to talking, one thing led to another, and they asked about working here. Before you arrived, they did a free show early on as their audition. Went over great."

"Roland's still talking with Adelle'"

"They had some catching up to do. They used to be married."

I blinked. "Married?"

"It was years back. They're all over it now."

Apparently not quite. Was that going to be a problem? The none-of-my-damned-beeswax tune played through my head again. I'd have to talk to Bobbi about this.

She beamed a smile at Faustine. "When can you come by tomorrow? We'll have to sort out the contract, schedule, rehearsals, and get some publicity photos for the ads and so on."

"Roland takes care of those t'ings. He come in vhenever you vish."

"One o'clock, then," Bobbi said decisively, softening it with an ingenuous smile. She seemed extremely pleased with herself. They must have really impressed her.

"Before you leave, I'd like to meet him," I put in.

Faustine favored me with a smoldering eye. "I vill get him. Once he is talk-ink, is difficult to drag avay, but I know how." She made a smoky smile and a sly wink, then undulated off. Hopefully, Adelle and Roland would be able to pry themselves apart before she walked in on them. The fewer people to gossip, the better. I stifled the urge to glance over at Gordy, waiting until Faustine was out of earshot.

"Iz that for reeel?" I asked Bobbi.

"Who cares? It works. Had you drooling."

"I was not drooling, just slightly fascinated. I never heard a Russian speak like that before, like Bela Lugosi crossed with Garbo. What's the real story?"

She shook her head. "What I told you is what I know, and they really are good dancers. Roland used to be in Hollywood, that's where he and Adelle met. She vouched for him so far as his talent goes. He sings and dances, has done plays and musicals. He got supporting romantic roles in some smaller films but never really hit the big time. Drink, according to Adelle. That's why she went to Reno a year into their marriage. That was ten years ago. He swears he's cleaned up his act since."

"I hope so. No room in this place for booze hounds breathing sour on the customers."

"Like that drummer?"

"He's at a safe distance and sober for now. What do they expect me to pay them?"

"The standard rate."

"Faustine won't be buying diamonds on that."

"You thought those were genuine?"

"I guess the accent blinded me. Won't hoofing in a nightclub be a comedown for them?"

"It's work. There's not a lot of it around these days, and there's always been more actors than acting jobs. I think they're trying to build up a grubstake before moving to New York or to Hollywood. That or hoping to carve a place for themselves in this town."

God, I wished Bobbi would listen to herself. She might think twice about going into the movies. There was plenty for her to do in Chicago. It wasn't that I wanted her to give up her dream, I just didn't want to lose her to it. We'd had that conversation more than once; this wasn't the time to go through it again. I shoved the old ache back into its rickety box and slammed the lid.

"Something wrong?" she asked.

It was terrifying how well she could read my face. What was unsuccessfully hiding there must stay put. I had a different problem all primed, anyway. "Listen, I saw this Roland with Adelle in her dressing room wrapped in a clinch that looked a lot more serious than old friends saying hello. They were more like honeymooners than a divorced couple."

"You sure?"

"I know a love scene when I see it. That one would have Will Hayes dropping dead of shock."

She shook her head. "But they only smiled and shook hands earlier."

"Saving the best for later. What with Adelle and Gordy doing a two-step for all this time, I thought one of us should-"

"Jack, it's none of our business."

"So I tell myself, but Gordy might not care for a moocher on his territory."

"That's Adelle's choice," she said archly.

"Not really. Gordy's not just any guy. You know what that means."

She started to say something more, then visibly changed her mind. When we first met, Bobbi was mistress to a mobster and had had very damned little choice about much of anything in her life. "Okay. I get it. But Gordy's a friend."

"Who kills people. Don't ever forget that. Adelle can't be completely ignorant of what he does, but she may need reminding. If she's going to run around on him, she won't like the consequences when he learns about it, and don't kid yourself that he won't."

"You wouldn't tell him."

"No. But he'd find out. It's what he does his whole life: find out things.

Sometime soon take Adelle aside and give her the straight on what it means to date guys in his line of work."

"She won't believe it."

"Give her a chance; she might. For her own good, she has to."

"And if she doesn't... you'll talk to her?" Bobbi knew what that involved.

"I won't tell her who to be with, just help her understand things."

"I don't like that."

"Me neither. I can also talk to this Roland, suggest he make himself scarce around Adelle, but one or the other has to lay off before there's a disaster."

"Why not talk to Gordy?"

She caught me flat-footed there. It never once occurred to me that I could also do a Svengali act on Gordy, and I didn't like it any more than she did. "All right, touche, ya got me square in the gizzard. I don't wanna interfere with any of them, and this ain't anything I should poke my nose into, but when I see a train wreck about to happen..."

"Okay, I'll give Adelle a heads up, pretend I was the one who saw her with Roland. Maybe there's a perfectly innocent reason why they were kissing."

She wouldn't have said that if she'd seen their level of osculation. Roland looked like he'd been mining for tonsils. "You could drop a hint to Roland about Adelle dating one of this town's top mob kingpins. Mention the possibility of broken legs."

She relaxed a little. "I could work it into a conversation... I don't want anyone hurt, but getting involved without an invitation is always a mistake. For all we know, there's nothing going on."

"All the same, I wanna avoid trouble. There they are. Introduce me, my sweet."

Bobbi made a sound suspiciously like a growl. When we turned to face them, we were close enough side by side for me to give her an easy-does-it pat on the rump. A little one, just to let her know that everything would be all right, no hard feelings. The growl abruptly choked off. She shot me a "don't be a wiseacre" look, recovered, and did the formalities. I shook hands with Roland Lambert.

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