Toli sat drumming his fingers up the sides of his sweaty glass of water. His eyes scanned the crowd around him, “The detective is waiting, Mr. Delareux,” he was jostled by a passing patron, “And you said you needed to stop by your office.”
“This is my office,” Delareux replied, circling the names of horses in the newspaper. He waved to the bandleader.
The bandleader, Ben Zoodu, was a pale, gaunt man who stood in front of a handful of musicians, shoved into the corner. A violin, a trombone, a tuba, an accordion and a monstrous percussion contraption. He swirled a baton in the air in front of him, lolling his head and eyes back as he swayed in arrhythmic patterns, supporting himself on the back of chair with his free hand. The band seemed oblivious to his gesticulating as they weaved a brisk, atonal swing.
When Ben saw Delareux wave, he sliced his baton through the air and the band stopped as one. Ben’s previous ecstasy was replaced with placidity as he guided his baton in languid arcs. The band began to pulse and so arose a dirge, but in a major key. Toli’s fingers stopped. He leaned into his chair and stared at Ben’s baton as it cut liquid shapes into the air. Delareux nodded to Ben. Ben eschewed the support of the chair long enough to tap the side of his nose.
“Well,” Delareux said standing, “I have some calls to make.”
“Okay,” Toli said without moving his gaze.
Delareux walked through a set of double doors into the kitchen.
“What’s the word, Millie,” he said to the large woman, elbows deep in suds, leaned over a sink scrubbing a steel plate. Millie stood and towered over Delareux like barn silo. She folded her arms and scowled down at Delareux.
“What are you here to give me the willies about this time, Tomcat?” she growled.
“How do you like goblins?” Delareux asked.
Millie erupted in howls of laughter, “I swear, Tom. I think you like getting yourself neck deep in that devil stuff.”
“The devil’s a piker,” Delareux puffed, “Believe me, I’d trade my thumbs not to get mixed up these cases.”
“I know you’re not just here for the whiskey and gumbo,” Millie said, “What can I do for ya?”
“You seen Shelby around?”
“It’s your lucky night. She’s right out back. Cleaning the rubes out.”
Delareux thanked Mille and returned to the bar room to retrieve Toli. By this time the entirety of the patronage was gazing at Ben and his orchestra. Delareux grabbed Toli by the arm and lifted him. Toli complied.
“We’re leaving,” Delareux said to Toli.
“Really? I was just getting comfortable,” Toli said in a mimicry of a protest.
“Yeah, I just gotta talk to somebody,” Delareux said leading Toli toward the kitchen doors.
“I thought the door was over there,” Toli mumbled.
“No, that’s just a space where there isn’t wall,” he replied pushing Toli through the kitchen to the back door, “Millie, this is Ana something Palazzo. Palazzo, this is Millie. She owns the La Moufette Coquine.”
“Nice to meet you,” Millie grinned as Delareux and Toli disappeared out the back.
“What’s La Moufette Coquine,” Toli slurred.”
“The place we were just in,” Delareux replied.
Delareux closed the heavy back door and the music was locked away. Toli shook his head and looked around.
“Why did you take me out through the kitchen?” Toli asked, “Why did I follow you through the kitchen? And that lady.”
Toli opened the door and music drifted out again. He stuck his head in a stared at Millie.
“Yes?” Millie looked at Toli askance.
Toli squinted his eyes as if he was trying to remember something.
“Oh, ah,” he began, “Nice to meet you.”
Toli’s stare drifted as Delareux pulled him back outside and shut the door. Toli snapped his head. He pointed at the door and looked at Delareux.
“Another time,” Delareux said waving his hand, “I have to talk to my contact then we can see the other detective if that will make you feel better.”
“Who are we waiting for, Delareux?” Toli snapped, “There aren’t many places I’d rather not be more than an alley, behind what is literally a hole in the wall bar, waiting for one of your, I’m sure, nefarious associates.”
“See that girl over there taking those bums for every dime? That’s Shelby.”
“That street urchin? She’s all of about nine years old, what could you possibly have to discuss?”
“She’s my eyes and ears. And I think she’s 12.”
Toli rolled his eyes and looked at his watch.
“The detective was expecting us an hour and half ago,” Toli griped, “She’s standing right there, why are we waiting?”
“She’s on a hot streak,” Delareux replied, “Can’t mess with good juju.”
“How about I meet you there?” Toli sighed.
“You want this case solved or solved right?”
“I just want it out of my hair.”
“Cough it up, bums,” Shelby laughed aloud, “I took you guys fair and square.”
The group of crouching men stood up grumbling and slapping their hats on their heads. Shelby trotted over to Delareux.
“Shel, this is Ana...Mr. Palazzo,” Delareux said, “He’s my client.”
“Since when?” Toli barked.
“Since you gave me fifteen bucks,” Delareux replied. Shelby perked up and looked at Toli.
“Yes, I hired you to drive a truck,” Toli protested.
“I’ve never been hired to do what I was hired to do.”
Delareux started patting his pockets. Unable to located what he was looking for he reached into Toli’s jacket pocket and pulled out the syringe the had found earlier.
“Does this look like anything to you,” said Toli show Shelby the syringe.
Shelby looked at the syringe and her eyes widened.
“What do you know about it?” asked Delareux.
Shelby took a long look at Toli and said, “What’s it worth to you?”
“What?” Toli looked between Delareux and Shelby.
Shelby locked her eyes on Toli. Delareux motioned for Toli to go along.
“How much do you want, you wretched creature?” Toli groaned.
“A dollar?” replied Shelby.
“I don’t really feel like dealing with this anymore,” Toli buttoned up his jacket, “Good day, Mr. Delareux.
Delareux intensified his previous gesture. Toli grunted and rubbed his eyes under his glasses.
“A quarter,” Toli said, pulling a quarter out of his pocket and holding it up.
“Three quarters,” Shelby continued her gaze.
“Two,” Toli said pulling another quarter from his pocket.
Shelby squinted and grabbed the quarters.
“We saw some older kid had one full of yellow stuff, but it was sparkly, like gold,” Shelby began, “We thought he was just another junkie going to pass out under the bridge, but a few minutes later he went nuts started wrecking stuff and running after people in the street. He even flipped over a delivery van with his bare hands.”
“That could have been your van, Palazzo,” Delareux said, patting Toli on the shoulder.
“With you driving? I could never be so lucky,” Toli said then turned to Shelby, “What did you do with the syringe?”
Shelby looked at Delareux and he nodded.
“I took it to the Doctor,” Shelby said.
“Doctor whom?” Toli asked.
“Doctor Andronikov,” she replied, “He sees the Bourbon Street Irregulars for free.”
“Who on Earth are the Bourbon Street Irregulars?”
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“They’re my information network,” Delareux chimed.
“You encourage this?” Toli protested.
“Here ya go, Shel,” Delareux said handing Shelby five dollars, “Don’t go too far. I might still need you on this.”
“Sure thing, Delareux,” Shelby said and leapt to the top of a dumpster, onto the fire escape and disappeared onto the rooftops.
“How much of my money does that urchin have?” Toli grumbled.
“It’s part of my overhead,” Delareux responded.
“I didn’t hire you as a detective,” Toli barked.
“You might not think that now,” he said.
“Well, we, or I, should be getting to the police station. The detective is waiting.”
“We have a few hours before the good doctor makes his nightly visit to Fanny’s.”
“Do I need to ask what Fanny’s is?”
“Fanny Alexander’s. A brothel with an upper class clientele. He’s a regular.”
“Good. Just where I hoped I’d end up today,” Toli sighed.
“You don’t gotta go,” Delareux said.
“No,” Toli said looking at the syringe, “I’m curious to meet this Doctor Andronikov.”
“We have a few hours before the good doctor makes his nightly visit,” Delareux offered.
“We shouldn’t keep the detective waiting any longer.”
Ed Danvers looked like a minotaur with a buzz cut and about the size of the door he opened to let Toli and Delareux into his office. He wore red suspenders that screamed against a rumpled white shirt, a few buttons stretched to accommodate a nascent pot belly. Toli walked in and held out his hand. Danvers grabbed it and gave two sharp flicks. Delareux slumped in a chair by the door and stared at his tarot cards.
“Anatoly Palazzo,” said Toli, recovering from the handshake.
“Detective Ed Danvers,” said Ed, “Sit.”
“This is…,” Toli said as he sat.
“I know who this is,” Danvers growled, “If you want my advice, stay as far away from him as possible.”
“I’ve been trying to do that all day,” said Toli, “It’s not as easy as you make it sound.”
“Let’s get down to brass tacks, Palazzo,” Ed started, "I’m investigating a case that took me down to around your warehouses.”
“Those, that I believe you are referring to, are not owned or used by me,” Toli explained.
“What makes you an expert on what I’m referring to?” Danvers squinted at Toli.
“Well,” Toli gulped, “We went down to my employee said he saw you. And we had ourselves...a little...look around.”
Ed drove his squint toward Delareux whose face was behind a card. Delareux slowly turned the card around to face Ed. The card showed a skeleton wielding a sickle over a large scorpion. At the bottom was clearly lettered ‘Death.’
“Is that supposed to scare me, Delareux?” Ed grumbled.
“I’m a scorpio,” Delareux sang.
“Really? Last time you were a Virgo,” Ed performed a hybrid of a cough and a derisive chuckle.
“Then I was,” Delareux went back to scanning his cards, “Now I’m a scorpio. I’m not going to fit in the man’s box.”
Ed shook his head and squinted back at Toli, “You didn’t give him any money, did ya?”
Toli’s face went blank.
“I pity you, my friend,” Ed frowned.
“Here,” Toli produced the syringe. Ed leaned back in his chair regarding the syringe, “We found this.”
“I’m going to need to take that as evidence.”
“Of course, detective.”
Delareux made a disapproving grunt.
“Now, Mr. Palazzo,” Ed leaned toward Toli, “You want my advice? Go home, be happy, let the police handle this. And for the love of Jove, stay the hell away from that misfit.”
Ed looked at Delareux, “And I better not be bumping into you, Delareux. Stay out of it.”
“Than don’t bump into me,” Delareux sprung from his seat and opened the door.
“Thank you very much, detective,” Toli began to offer his hand, but just waved, “And I’ll very much heed your advice. Certainly.”
“Stay. Away. From. Him,” Danvers called as Toli and Delareux walked away.
Once out of sight, Toli pulled Delareux aside and leaned in, “So,” Toli confided, “What time is Doctor Andronikov due at his usual haunt?”