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"he saw too many people to care about any undue influence even in this graveyard."
frankie was desperate for a cigarette. he had been listening to uncle bradley's ramblings and mutterings and wise sayings since the sun had gone down and the neon sign on the hotel outside the window of uncle bradley's office had started flashing. the sign flashed on and off all night. frankie had pleaded with uncle bradley to get an office outside a bar or theatrical establishment - whose light might go off after closing time - but, in this as in most things, uncle bradley ignored his advice.
"what was that again?"
"i said," uncle bradley repeated "that he - "
"he is al zeto - who runs this town and a few others, as you may have noticed."
"no i hadn't noticed. i thought the gummint was running the whole world, including this town."
do you have a cigarette?'
"of course i don't have a cigarette. what ever gave you such an idea? and if i had one, i wouldn't give you one. a cigarette! where would i get a cigarette? where were we?"
"we were speculating on whether al zeto or the gummint ran this town."
"what town?" uncle bradley picked up his razor sharp letter opener and spun it on his right forefinger.
"this town we're sitting in." the sight of the spinning letter opener was starting to accomplish what a night of listening to uncle bradley had not - make frankie sleepy.
'we're not sitting in the town, we're sitting in my office."
"right." frankie took his eyes away from the spinning letter opener, and uncle bradley put it down.
"speaking of this office - of this office -"
"yes?" uncle bradley lifted his bushy right eyebrow.
"business isn't too good, is it?"
"you could say that."
frankie hesitated. "maybe i should look darker up."
"that loser? he's got to be worse off than us. he was more dependent on cash than we were."
"i'm not so sure about that. he could pick up all sorts of stuff. you have to get paid by somebody."
"yes, but he has to pay more people off. maybe it's a wash." uncle bradley stopped spinning the letter opener and put it down on the desk. "besides, i thought you didn't like him."
"i don't. he's a filthy disgusting animal - " uncle bradley's eyebrows went up slightly at frankie's choice of words - "but you - we - have to do something."
uncle bradley shrugged. "talk to him if you want, if you can find him. just don't commit me to anything without talking to me first."
"oh, i would never do that."
uncle bradley picked the letter opener up again and ran his thumb along it.
"i need some fresh air," frankie told him.
"then get some. who's stopping you?"
"nobody, i guess." frankie stood up. he lost his balance for a second, got it back.
"i'll be back."
"i'll be here."
"i guess you will." frankie went out the door after moving his chair out from in front of it.
uncle bradley hadn't had a customer in a long time. he had advertised himself as a detective, an assassin, a torturer, a poisoner, a finder of missing persons, a kidnapper, a slave trader, a white slaver, a spy, a procurer, "the man who will do anything" ... it didn't make any difference, there wasn't any business. he just sat in his chair and waited. frankie supported him for old times sake, and because maybe... maybe... maybe what?
frankie found himself down in the street. he took a deep breath of the "fresh" air and wanted a cigarette worse than ever. at least he was waking up. he noticed a black car parked halfway down the street, in the shadow of the hotel with the flashing light. as soon as he noticed it the drivers door and the right side passenger door opened and two detectives stepped out.
duffy and messalina, the two meanest and crookedest detectives in captivity.
good cop bad cop was not in their repertoire - they were both bad. frankie took an instinctive step back toward the shadows but duffy's voice stopped him.
"going somewhere, jiao?"
frankie stopped and waited for them. duffy was wearing a three piece suit and a fedora. frankie thought she looked ridiculous. messalina looked a little more stylish in a baseball cap and sports jacket.
"i just stepped out for some fresh air, detective."
duffy stepped right up to him. "you think i look ridiculous, don't you?"
"i can see you are making a statement."
"got any i d?'" messalina asked frankie.
"we don't need any i d," said duffy. "i know exactly who this is. and what he is. isn't that right, jasper wofgang mordecai ali ramon jiao?'
"my friends call me frankie."
"you picked up some friends?" duffy turned to messalina. "i guess we haven't been keeping this guy as close as we thought."
'i think he means us. we're his friends."
"what do you want?" frankie asked. "why are you out here watching uncle bradley? he hasn't done anything but sit in his office since - since - for a long time."
"how long is a long time?," messalina asked.
"these new time measurements confuse me," frankie answered.
"me too," messalina told him. "i'm an old-fashioned girl, these new ways confuse me no end."
"be that as it may," said duffy, "we are not interested in bradley, we are interested in darker."
frankie looked up at the flashing light of the hotel. "they say the universe is running down," he said ,"but you would never know it from this sign."
"that was a pretty weak change of subject," messalina told him.
"look at us when you speak to us," duffy added. "don't be impolite, it's not polite."
"so when was the last time you heard from darker?" messalina asked.
"i never hear from darker."
"that's not what we hear. we heard you were pretty tight."
"you heard wrong." frankie looked up at the hotel sign again, it was blinking on and off "hotel end whistle".
messalina looked up at it too. "didn't it use to have another name?"
"but," duffy continued, 'you wish you were tight with darker, don't you? "
"that's right." messalina took her eyes off the sign. "maybe we'll arrest both of you, put you in a cell together. even though he's a disgusting animal, he might get bored."
"you'd like that, right?" duffy asked.
frankie didn't answer.
"don't be rude, answer my question."
"i admit when i first saw him i found him attractive. anybody would. but - "
duffy poked him in the chest "but nothing. "
"tell me, frankie," messalina asked, "how long since you've been ravished with burning love by a real man?"
"a while. but what do you care?"
"we're your friends. we care about you."
"we got to go,' said duffy. "we'll be in touch. remember, friends don't keep secrets from each other."
messalina gave him a final smile and they both turned to go.
"hey!" frankie called after them.
messalina turned back to him.
"since you're my friends - "
"you got a cigarette."
"sure," messalina dug into the pocket of her jacket. it took a while but she finally extracted a single slightly bent cigarette and handed it to frankie.
"i don't need a light, i got my own."
"good. i see you are prepared for any eventuality. we like that."
when frankie got back upstairs the first thing uncle bernard said to him was, "he saw too many people to care about any undue influence even in this graveyard."
but this time, frankie thought, i have a cigarette. maybe it will turn out differently.