The day dawned cold, wet and windy. Typical for Jersey City in October. I turned up the collar on my trench coat and tugged the rumpled fedora lower to keep the rain out of my eyes. The .45 rested snug under my right arm, both holster and gat lending a little warmth. I sucked in smoke off the nail dangling from the side of my kisser which helped keep the blood pumping in this autumn ice box. Jersey had always been home but why I put up with it now was maybe the biggest mystery on my plate.
My Plymouth was in the shop again so I’d decided to hoof the five blocks to my office. As soon as I’d left my two room walk up, it really started to dump, as though God’s helping hand was just the ticket needed to douse my hangover. I really wanted to thank him, but all’s it reminded me of was the mud of Monte Casino and how trudging up and down that goddam mountain had nearly punched my ticket. As a reminder, my left knee started to ache. Krauts were damned good at drilling ground pounders—especially when popping slugs downhill. Sometimes I wished I’d got the full Monty and not just the bum knee. One benny about the rain though, was that it soaked the sidewalk and kept the Jersey dirt out of my schnoz.
Hoofing three flights of stairs helped lose some of the outside chill so I unbuttoned the trench before reaching the office door. Once inside the blower started up, torching the ache behind my eyes. It wasn’t all that loud but the dawn damage from last night had really razzed my head. As I crossed to the cluttered desk and kicked over a stack of files, sending them skittering across the wood floor like a bunch of spooked roaches, I cursed the start of another day.
I let it ring while taking off the trench coat. Then I sat down and killed the nail.
“Maxwell Detective Agency,” I said into the blower.
Nothing at first, but from the faint breathing I knew someone was on the line. “You got five seconds before I hang up, kapish?”
“Nick, Harry Dowd here.”
I sat up in the chair, tried to lose the hangover by rubbing my eyes then I sailed my fedora over to the one empty spot on the folder-filled couch where it landed then rolled off and across the room, bouncing off the opened file cabinet.
Remember him? I’d tried since 1945 to forget the mug, but at the sound of the name and low raspy voice, it all came back in a flash.
“Yeah, I remember you pal, what you want?”
“Still hate my guts, eh? Can’t says I blame that, but you’re the only gumshoe I can trust. Terri’s vanished.”
Terri Byrne. I’d never expected to hear that flame-top’s name again either and whenever my thinker dredged it up I tried to remember the good times—all gone-ski now. Nothing but trash can miseries that I worked overtime to shovel back into my own personal cesspool.
“I know you still got the torch burning, Nick, so you gonna help or not?”
I closed my eyes, traveled back to our last meet in September of ’45 when I’d pointed out of the Army after the war. There she was, saying where she’d be after that last call I’d made from Ft. Dix, waiting at our special place, The Lucky Seven on 2nd Street. A real dame to die for, all legs and looks and a face that had kept me alive when the kraut shelling had kept the bugs scuttling inside my brain, one step away from the loony bin. Even after a month on the line, fighting the mud and drilling krauts who were trying to drill me back, she’d kept me going.
But this time it hadn’t been all waves and kisses and I’ll wait for you baby. This time she’d been with good ol’ Harry Dowd, the mug who’d stayed home. The mug on the blower right now. The mug who’d stole Terri’s heart while I was in Italy slipping and sliding in the mud and rain and snow to keep slacker black market chiselers like Dowd all cozy and warm and safe.
“I’m sorry, Nick,” she’d said. “I thought telling you before you got back was worse than telling you to your face.”
The greasy smile plastered on Dowd’s pie hole was a target just waiting for my fist, so I’d turned and left without a word. The end to the dream that had kept me going till VE Day.