Noir – Chapter One

February 25, 2014 at 8:58 pm (Posts)

Trouble walked into the bar in a cloud of perfume. The flowery smell cut through the dingy, unwashed atmosphere and wrapped itself around Eldon’s throat. He couldn’t name the scent she wore, but he could put his own name to it: money. She stood there for a moment, surveying the land. She didn’t belong. She was too well-groomed for this place.

Gritty and dark, the bar was one tiny step up from a dive. The sunlight penetrated the din for a brief period of time in the early afternoon. After that, the place was a cave. The building was built in the seventies, but the grime could be carbon-dated to the early fifties. Vancouver’s city by-laws prohibited smoking inside, but the air still felt heavy with it. Patrons stepped outside the door, puffed up, and then carried the fumes back in with them. The same people frequented the bar, daily. Eldon knew, because he was one of those regulars.

He knew she was there for him, just as he knew he’d order another drink. He didn’t want her to come over, but he couldn’t take his eyes off her as she spotted him and started to glide his way. She didn’t walk, she floated. Her hips swayed in her too tight pencil skirt. The button-down shirt enhanced the swell of her breasts. The top three buttons, undone, provided him with a healthy view of same. She was perfection and Eldon Wolf had never trusted perfection. Yeah, she was trouble alright. And she headed straight for him.

He ignored her once she arrived. Sipping his drink, he gestured for another. The bar was dim and that didn’t just refer to the lighting. He sat there because most people didn’t ask him any questions. He hated questions, or the obligation people forced on him to answer them. Mostly he just ignored people. He didn’t care if that made them angry. He wasn’t too worried about pleasing people, most of the time. He’d tried that and gotten burned. He’d gotten burned not pleasing people too, but he expected that.

“Mind if I join you?”

She had a voice like smoke over ice. He wondered if she’d trained it that way, or if she’d sounded like that through high school. That voice would have driven the teenage boys insane, if they knew what it meant. Eldon doubted they knew. Teenage boys don’t know anything about women. Not that Eldon knew anything now. He was 41 and divorced. Marriage hadn’t worked out all that well for him. If he lived another hundred years he doubted he’d be any closer to understanding women. He figured they liked to be mysterious. Kept the fire alive, or some such thing. He didn’t know. He didn’t care, either. He hadn’t felt the need to care about a woman, beyond a few happy hours spent in bed, for many years.

She sat even though he’d not invited her to. He watched her. He couldn’t help himself. She was a woman a little out of her time. Too pin-up girl for today’s anorexics. Eldon believed a woman needed to be soft. Her body, not her brain. He didn’t always care much what was going on in her brain. But lush curves like this one had were too far out of style for most people’s liking. She had to belong to someone. The rich clothes, the large stones on her fingers. If she didn’t get them from a man, she got them from her family. He couldn’t see her working for a living. She didn’t have to. Not like some women did. She didn’t seem like the type who wanted a career, either. You could smell that on a woman. Career women had a look in their eyes that assessed and calculated and usually found him wanting. This one wanted, but Eldon wasn’t going to fall for that.

Sex would be easy. And it would be a mistake. His gut told him that even as his cock told him it had been a long time and he might as well go for it. He wasn’t an ugly man. He was fit, because his military background had drummed that into him every day of his seventeen year career. He was out now, five years, but he still kept his fitness up. You never knew when you’d have to run a skip down. He did that once in a while, traced skips. He wasn’t a professional. He just took the odd job now and then. It paid well and gave him something to do. When he wasn’t at the bar.

“My name is Veronica Nolan and I need your help.”

She wasn’t put off by his surly nature. That was a surprise. He wasn’t used to having women approach him while he was drinking. This bar wasn’t exactly friendly to her type. Women in this joint worked the back room by the hour and made little more than minimum wage doing it. Twenty bucks for a blow job and you got a free shot of whiskey after. Of course it was shit whiskey, but beggars can’t be choosers. He’d not gone in for it. It wasn’t his thing. Sure, if he dated a girl he’d be okay with it. Not that he dated much. He didn’t think picking up a girl in a bar, a more respectable one that this joint, and taking her home counted as a date.

And he never took them to his home. He lived in a rooming house near the Pink Pearl. It was cheap and he didn’t have to worry about collecting too much stuff or having people over for dinner. No one he knew wanted to come to his place. It was clean and bug free, but that was about it. It barely qualified as an apartment. He had a hot plate and a box of a bathroom with the showerhead placed over the toilet. He could sit down to take his shower. Made it easier to scrub his feet. The rest was just a bed, a night stand and a small dresser for what few clothes he had. He didn’t need more than that. More just became more and no one ever seemed happier with more.

She placed an envelope on the bar at his elbow. He didn’t look over. She hadn’t taken the hint. She wasn’t reading his body language right, or she didn’t care. He figured she usually got what she wanted. She placed a picture on top of the envelope. He glanced at it. The photo was old. Early to mid-eighties at a guess. He stared across the small table at her once more. He sat with his back to the wall and his eyes on the room at all times. That was habit. He took it all in and right now every eye was on her. The slit in her skirt had skimmed up her leg when she’d sat down. Every man in the room was hoping it would slip up just a little more. Then they’d all get a thrill.

Not that her thighs weren’t a joy on their own. Soft, creamy skin, shaved and moisturized. Her thighs were firm, but not stick thin. Her black hair cascaded down her back in waves. She’d styled it like old Hollywood and it suited her. Glossy and thick, it made a man’s hands itch to touch it.

Eldon clenched his hand into a fist around his glass. Shooting the last of his drink, he nodded to the bartender in thanks for the replacement drink. He only ever had three drinks and this was his third. He didn’t drink at home. The place was too depressing and he didn’t want to become one of those guys. He knew if he had alcohol at home it would become a problem. He had enough to deal with, he didn’t need a drinking problem.

Her eyes were as blue as a lake and they darkened a little as she stared at him, waiting for him to say something. He wondered how long she would wait. He didn’t care. The guy in the picture had the same eyes. Now why had he noticed that? He wasn’t going to help her. He didn’t care if she’d stuffed the envelope full of cash. She’d sealed it, so there could be anything inside. It could contain a sheaf of papers that had nothing to do with money.

“That’s a small retainer. I need you to investigate the events that led to this man’s disappearance. I understand from Lieutenant Cohen that you’re a skip tracer, so you’re familiar with looking into people’s backgrounds.”

Eldon cursed under his breath. Cohen was probably laughing at him right now. What do you think of the looker I sent your way? he’d say. You owe me for passing that one along, Wolfie. Eldon wouldn’t agree, but then he and Cohen had never seen eye to eye on women. Cohen had himself tied down to one woman he couldn’t wait to get away from. He was in hock up to his eyeballs because his wife liked certain very expensive things. Cohen made a decent wage, but not enough to cover her expensive tastes. She’d come from money but left it behind to marry Cohen. She’d expected him to cover what her daddy used to. It hadn’t worked out the way she’d hoped. Eldon figured her daddy still covered some of her bills and Cohen wasn’t too proud to accept the help.

Yeah, Cohen would be laughing at him right now, the bastard.

“Will you take my case, Mr. Wolf?”

“No.”

He tossed back the last of his third drink before realizing that it was already gone. Annoyed, he left a few bills on the table for the tab and walked out. He didn’t need her kind of mess. Trouble was, he knew he was already involved. She wasn’t going to give up on him that easy. He knew her kind too well. She’d settled on him and that was that. She’d find him. He would bet that Cohen had given her his address, too. Probably suggested she try the bar first, given the time of day.

He didn’t need the money right now. His bank account wasn’t anything to crow about, but it was in the black. A lot of people who made more money than he did couldn’t say that. When skips were few, he’d take on other work. Landscaping was easy and he got some exercise from it. Plus, he liked being outside, in the sun. Or the rain. It was Vancouver, after all. If he didn’t like the rain he was living in the wrong town.

His room wasn’t that far from the bar. He liked being able to walk to his drinks. He didn’t own a car. Just another expense he didn’t need most days. When he needed wheels, he took a cab. Most every other time he’d just walk. He did that now, leaving the bar and walking the few blocks over to his place. It was later than usual. Most days, he went for drinks around two and stayed a few hours. It was close to seven already and that wasn’t normal. But he didn’t have anything else to occupy himself with just now.

He’d finished up a trace last week that had put his neck on the line a little more than normal. He’d seen a lot of action back in his Navy days. He’d gone overseas many times, but he wasn’t embroiled in the mess of it. Not the way the Army guys were. Or the Americans. He’d remained behind the scenes. He wasn’t supposed to be there and his country wouldn’t have acknowledged him if he’d gotten caught. It was the way of things for guys like him.

The skip had been a big guy who had put up a bit of a fight. Eldon was a big guy with a lot of fight still in him. The skip had gotten in one good punch to Eldon’s gut, and then hadn’t landed another blow. The skip had dropped like a stone after three punches. Eldon’s fists were steel wrapped over with skin. The fight had invigorated him. The skip was ten years younger and twenty pounds of muscle heavier, but he hadn’t the training that Eldon had.

Entering the front door of his building, the smell hit him before his eyes had even adjusted to the light. Urine. Always urine. He didn’t know who had taken to pissing in the entryway, but if he found the guy, he’d toss him out the front door on his ass. He’d lived in the building for five years and he felt responsible for its inhabitants. Mostly druggies and whores, they rarely bothered him. Every once in a while a whore would have a difficult customer and Eldon would have to break down a door and bust a few teeth. That wasn’t as common as he’d first thought it would be.

His room was spotless and no one had entered it since he’d left for the bar. His method of detection wasn’t high tech. It didn’t have to be, to be effective. A hair tucked into the door frame near the floor would fall to the ground and go unnoticed by anyone entering. Dropping his leather jacket on the bed, he stripped out of his clothes and walked into the bathroom. Constructed of stainless steel, the room was easy to keep clean and it remained water tight while he showered. Not designed for couples showers, though. Not that he worried about that.

If he wanted a woman, he went to her place. Or he coughed up the cash for a hotel. The nicer the woman, the better the hotel. Scrubbing off the bar stench, he wrapped a towel around his waist and proceeded to shave the days growth from his face. He hadn’t bothered to shave that morning, because he’d not woken up until noon. He was going to have to pay Cohen a visit. He didn’t like that the man felt free giving his personal information away. Wiping his face, he unlocked the bathroom door and stepped back into his room. Floral perfume hung heavy in the air.

“You live in an interesting neighbourhood, Mr. Wolf.”

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