“Are you going to answer me, or are you going to sit there and try to look cute?” Stan asked. I always imagined what it would sound like if he ever gave someone a compliment. Luckily, I have a vivid imagination. Like me, he likely saved all of his compliments for Alice.
“I’m flattered, but I think you’re taking the brothers in arms thing one step too far,” I replied, having some fun with him. I’m acutely aware that I’m going to have to laugh at my joke.
“Times like these, I don’t know why I bothered to save you all of those times,” he said. If it weren’t for the fact that he didn’t have a sense of humor, I could never tell if he was joking or not.
“I think you’ve forgotten that I’ve seen you run. Even under fire, it leaves a lot to be desired,” I joked, again. My attitude is why people don’t put up with me for very long. I’m not sure that I’d have it any other way.
“We can go back and forth like this all day long, but I’m not here for that. What’s the deal? Are we going to see my guy?” he asked. He looked at me with this look that gave me chills. Apparently, he wants to help me, and he already did. Unfortunately, I can’t shake the combination of the disgust on his face and his piercing gaze. He’s looking at me as if I was nothing to him, rightly so. I think that I’m about to lose him, which is not okay. I always thought Sarge would be the last person to abandon me, and when I think about it, maybe he is the last one left. I wonder if I’ve fallen farther than I know.
“That’s the magic word, the deal. I’ll see your guy, but I need your help first.”
Sarge seemed somewhat relieved. “Okay, I’ll play along. Enlighten me,” he replied.
“I’m in some trouble, and I have a debt to repay,” I said. I wasn’t trying to be cryptic, but I wasn’t as ready to share as I anticipated.
“I’ve never known you to have a gambling problem,” he replied, puzzled.
“No, I don’t; this debt isn’t like that. You had me pegged. I’m a drunk. Linda practically nurses me through it. In fact, she’s seen sides of me that only a wife should, probably more,” I admitted. Thankfully, that awful look on his face and in his eyes was washed away, as if I need to be haunted by something else.
“Alright, kid, tell me what you need,” he replied. When he called me kid, I could feel my eyes welling up and that subtle stinging sensation that accompanies it. That tells me that he’s still on my side if only I deserved it.
“This guy, Link, pulled me out of a burning building the other night. Afterwards, he asked me to help find a woman. Her name is Emily Black, supposedly,” I explained. Sarge looked intrigued. He likes a good mystery as much as I did. You see, I used to be one of his associates, and my door once read Stan Law and Associates. I’m not sure that I’ve ever put it together, but Sarge is likely the most important person in my life.
“Tell me about Emily Black,” he said. I got the feeling that he had more to say but was curious to hear my piece beforehand.
“Well, she came into my office and pretended to hire me. Once we got outside, she, along with two men, ambushed me and tossed me in the trunk of a taxi. Then, I woke up in a burning building. Link saved me. The next morning, he came to the office and asked me to find her. Oh, I also received a check from the same woman,” I said, summing it all up for him.
“Does your breath constantly reek of booze so much so that you can’t smell a rat?” he asked. It was a bit hateful, even for him. Well, maybe not.
“That’s smart,” I remarked. I wanted to fire back with a volley of wit, but Stan had me down and was all too happy to kick me.
“Do you have any leads at all?” he asked, with a heap of doubt in his tone.
“Well, I found the cab driver that knocked me out. That’s when I found the body of the second man. He had a matchbook from Lucky’s on him. Emily mentioned a bar when she hired me, and I’m hoping this is the one,” I explained.
“It’s thin, but it’s not nothing,” he replied. Like I said, Sarge isn’t much for compliments. “You’re pal, Link, knows more than he’s telling you. Did you ever wonder how he found you? Maybe her whole story is right. Maybe he is stalking her, and that’s how he found you. Now, he can use you to find her. Man, this whole thing stinks. I can see this going about seven different ways,” he said.
“Listen, Sarge. Will you help me?”
“Chet, you were one hell of a shortstop, the best I ever saw. If it weren’t for the war, maybe things would be different. You’ll always be one of the boys to me. There’s so many of them that I can’t help now, so I’m not going to turn my back on you,” he replied. Undoubtedly, his words moved me, but I feel a little guilty to be using our past as a form of currency.
“First, I think we need to look into this guy Link. Since he knows you, I’ll handle that. Even though I hate to send you to a bar, we can cover more ground that way. By the way, do you still have that check? We need to see what we can find out from the bank. What’s your play?” he asked.
I wish I knew what to do next. Then, I had an idea. “I think I know a guy that can help us out,” I said. My brand of clarity comes from being sober. Unfortunately, I’m not sure which is worse, and I usually don’t figure it out until it’s too late.
Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.
“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”