“Give me my money, Vinny,” I said with an edge in my voice. “And no crap. I don’t feel like playing with you today.”
Vinny didn’t say anything and just pulled a gun out of his desk and sat it on the table. He looked up at me and smirked.
I laughed. “Cut the bullshit, Vin. Give me my money.”
He stood up and waddled over to me. I could smell the garlic on him from 5 feet away. Seriously – Garlic. Shouldn’t I have smelled something, well, Irish? Guinness maybe? He was hopeless. Vinny lifted his hand as if he were going to gingerly put a stray lock of hair behind my ear. Instead, I grabbed his hand, turned him around, and pinned him to the wall of his office. I shoved his face into this month’s centerfold’s ample, but fake breasts. “Don’t fuck with me today, Vinny. Didn’t you see that guy I just took down? He knew how to fight, and he’s going to be in recovery for weeks. Can’t you imagine what I would do to a little, greasy weasel like you?”
Vinny shouted for his guards. I pounded his head into the Centerfold’s cleavage. “Your guards are busy, Vinny,” I said. “You’ve gotten yourself a good old-fashioned mob out there. Now, I want my fucking money before the cops show up.”
“Okay,” he choked out.
“What’s that?” I asked, tightening my grip on his arm. He screamed out in pain.
“Okay, okay!” he shouted. “I’ll get your money!”
I let him go. He walked back over to his desk, rubbing his wrist. “You should come work for me,” he said as he opened the drawer. He pulled out the money and tossed it to me.
“No,” I replied, counting the money.
“It’s all there,” he said as he sat down. “I wouldn’t dream of shorting you. You’re too pretty to screw over.”
“And yet you try to do it every time I’m in here.”
“You’d have great benefits,” he continued.
“Oh yeah,” I replied, my voice thick with sarcasm. “The very best of mob doctors! No thanks, Vinny. I make a living.”
“Ah yes, your side business.” He chortled.
I rolled my eyes at him and left.
As I walked out of the “abandoned” warehouse, I could hear sirens in the distance. I was curious who would have actually called them up. Probably some idiot in the crowd with a cell phone. It looked as if Vinny’s ring was going to be shut down for a while, so it may have been a good thing that Jenna, my assistant, had gotten me hooked up with another ring in town. That was where my second fight was going to be today.
I hoped into my little cobalt blue sedan. About a quarter mile away from the warehouse, I passed a line of cops going the other way. Ambulances and fire trucks soon followed. I had gotten out of there just in time. A wicked smile crossed my face. I had warned Vinny about the riot, but I was curious if he would get out of there in time to avoid arrest for running an illegal fighting ring. And then I realized that I didn’t care. I was sick of having to win two fights in order to get my money, though there was something slightly satisfying about bruising up Vinny when we met. I just didn’t like touching him. He sweated grease and garlic.
I really needed a shower.
Maybe this new gig would be more lucrative. And maybe I could work with a more dignified set of fighters and ringleaders. I sighed. It wouldn’t happen. Street fighters aren’t exactly the classiest bunch. But, one could hope.
Fifteen minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of the strip mall where my side business was located. My office was snuggled between a podiatrist and a Subway. It didn’t have a sign on top of the building, just a simple sheet of paper held up in the glass door that read “Evelyn Whitman, Private Detective.”
The smell of cooking bread hit me as soon as I got out of my car. I drooled momentarily and longed for a 6 inch sub-Chicken, bacon, ranch, UGH! But I know my body couldn’t handle that much food before the next fight. My jaw tightened as I steeled up my willpower. I trudged next door instead.
Sleigh bells jingled as I opened the door to my office. It was a simple place. The walls were cream-colored. Jenna had decorated it with a fake fern beside the door, and a crappy painting of a beach scene in a pale pink plastic frame hung on the wall behind her desk. Both items she had gotten from a yard sale for only one buck each. The fern wasn’t so bad. I think she got ripped off on the painting.
Jenna was sitting behind her desk, flipping through a Good Housekeeping magazine. Her shoulder-length blond hair was covering most of her face. I knew she had heard the bells and the door opening, but she didn’t look up. I walked back over to the door, grabbed the Christmassy sleigh bells, and started jerking them around like mad. The ringing echoed around the little office. Jenna finally looked up at me, annoyed. I didn’t give her a chance to talk. I threw the stack of money at her. It landed neatly on top of her folded magazine with a plop. “Clean that,” I said.
That was the real reason I was a private detective—money laundering. The IRS tended to get suspicious about a woman who didn’t have a job bringing in wads of cash. First thoughts would go directly to ventures that were a lot more illegal than streetfighting— drugs, extortion, that sort of gig. I’ll leave that to Vinny’s buddies.
Now don’t get me wrong, I actually do some detectiving. I am properly licensed and bonded and all that legal mumbo-jumbo. Occasionally, some poor wife comes in and wants me to follow her husband who was obviously cheating. It’s usually easy enough to tail the poor sap and get pictures of him leaving some seedy motel with what was usually and equally seedy looking woman. Rarely did anything more substantial come up.
Perhaps it was because I was listed as “Whitman Detective Agency” in the yellow pages. It was the last entry, so I didn’t get many calls. Honestly, though, it left me more time to do my more lucrative job. It gave me an honest company to run my winnings through. And it gave me an excuse for the bruises. “Some big lug wanted my camera,” “I fell off a fence while trying to get a better shot,” and so on and so forth.
Jenna was my manager of sorts. Really, she was just an organizer. She’s the one who found the fights and got me on the schedule. She was somehow related to Vinny and some of the others in the Irish Mob, but I learned to never remind her of that. She doubles as my secretary. She gets paid damn well for a secretary. She gave herself a salary so that she doesn’t have to keep track of hours. I, on the other hand, get paid by “job.” After each fight that I win, a new client magically appears in our books, and I do a lot of work for this client, lots of pictures and time. And this magical client pays me hourly via cash. A lot of clients pay in cash. They don’t want a record of them hiring a Private Detective. I don’t complain.
“Any calls?” I asked Jenna.
“Yeah,” she says, flipping the page. I wait a second for her to finish a paragraph or whatever. “You have an 8am appointment tomorrow.”
“8am! Why the hell at 8am?”
Jenna looked up from her magazine. “It’s what time he wanted. Maybe he has to go to work early or something.”
“So now I have to come to work even earlier? Sheesh,” I replied. “You do know I have another fight tonight, right?”
“Yeah, I do. I’m the one who schedules those for you.”
“Speaking of, why the hell did you schedule two fights in one day? I usually don’t even fight twice in one week. It hurts like hell!”
She marked her place with one of those tear-out subscription cards and put down the magazine. “Look,” she said, meeting my eyes. “We both knew you needed to get out of Vinny’s racket. Mobs fights aren’t safe. This new group doesn’t have any other illegal connections, other than the fighting. They mostly just fight for the fun of it. And they only meet-up once a month. Tonight was the night. I figured you didn’t want to wait to get started next month. Besides you should be happy that I even got you into this ring. It’s impossible to bring in outsiders, and I did it!”
I was silent for a moment. “How did you even hear about this fighting ring?” I asked.
“Through the grape vine.” Jenna shrugged, picked up her magazine again, and started reading, signaling that the conversation was over.
I sighed. “The warehouse was busted today. I got out just in time.”
Jenna grinned. It was an “I told you so” kind of smile.
I stuck my tongue out at her in response and headed back to my office. Time for a super tasty snack of grain and oats drizzled with fake chocolate. Joy!