It paints each face. Eight loungers crowd the election map with Hricko and Peachy to my left, while Andrew right. Ends remain empty. Only sitting do I notice Peachy wears leather moccasins not stilettos. Beaded moccasins our hat-check lends to customers with wet feet. Eyeing the change casually I tease her. "Thenthank G*d our flooded parking lot is not knee deep. My shrimpers togs are belly-high."
"Broke a heel, Saul in Bens pick-up. Off-the-beach I hate pink sneakers. But, Saul to the rescue; your hat-check gal is a dear."
"Problems during the drive, Ben? Bridges north side of the harbor safely open?"
"IOP bridge is closed, both directions. Two Molson SUVs drove into each-other, each speeding visibility zero in the wrong lanes. Body count gonna run high. We swung over to Sullivans Island and luckily crossed the draw-bridge."
"Wappo Cut bridge is ... hesitant tonight."
"Ben Sawyer not much better. The bridge was locked open when we arrived."
"Not another fool passage?"
"The worst! A pilot-house schooner had tried running the bridge and hung-up on riprap beside middle pilings. Mast sticking up from the Inter-coastal right through the roadway; two sailor-babes screaming at their keel." His hawk-nose points up. " Rain beat merciless on us, Saul, a growing line of cars behind. Yeah we bitched!" Hricko bites smoke from his Camel. " You know how people are. After sharp discussion over relative social value the bridge-op closed the draw, clipping the schooner mid-mast while pulling the hull past the bridge-line." Hricko chuckles snidely. " Solved that problem. Everybody has insurance ... I hope."
I force a laugh. "You were first over, then ..."
"Second. An old Beemer sat first, roared across and weaved down Ben Sawyer, some punk Niggar throwing coke-cans out the open window."
An electric passes 'round. Hricko is always armed, and I feared ..."And you did ...?"
"Would'a done nothing, if a Coke hadn't hit the pickup that ol' Geeche gal drives who lives swamp-side, across from the fort. Smokes cheroots. Uses the F-150 to deliver her woven baskets, and this gawdawful night prolly returning from a customer. Last year I had to clean out a rattlesnake nest under her pilings, but generally she's a pretty independent lady. Doesn't deserve a beer-can broken window. I got plenty pissed-off."
"And you did ..."
"Well couldn't help the Geeche-gal just then, but we drove up along-side the Beemer, and pushed him off the road, into the swamp. My pick-up's a heavy item; kiss-and-tell more than enough. High tide, so the bastard tumbled once, then bellied into pluff-mud brine up to the windshield. Bantus are exempt from seatbelt laws, cause black soul is sensitive and belts remind Niggars of slavery. Bastards head smashed through the windshield. Hope the mocs get him before the gulls ..."
Hricko leans back and lights into a new Camel Straight. Pinch-face I smile ... muse a little ... frown. Hrickos story carries a long dark tail, like a die that goes out-of-square every 10-th throw. "Fair Dinkum tale, eh Hricko?" He says nothing. "Scratch your '67 Chevy?"
"Not at all. Peachy has a very light touch on the steering wheel."
Peachys' hands spread wide in exclamation and blush favors her cheeks . A foolish man will miss the cold steel glint behind warm emerald eyes. Green sparklers shine. "Raining geese and gosling, you must know. Couldn't see the main-beams, only amber fog-lights Ben installed. And Punko weaved every time he threw a can. That's how I broke my heel, Saul, stomping on the accelerator when we pulled alongside. Damned Hricko made the gas a hard-punch pedal ... and while he was giving me poochy-dog eye-rolls I had to punch it !"
Caught-up in Peachys' tale I am, but from behind comes the squeak . "That ain't nothin' for a dame. I had a client stiff me once, always wore hi-fashion blueberry silk shorties to the office, but covered them with shin-high black Doc Martins. Said she had to elevate to stay out of debt and I should get on the ladder. Was she promising me something?"
"Sammy! How many months? ... you look wonderful," squires Peachy, slinking from her lounger to greet him. "Ben says hospital nurses treated you like a hero; same floor same ICU that saved him."
Levine blushes at the cheek-pek. "It was nothin', rain-water , chocolate eclair Peachy-pie like your ball-N-chain went thru wet marl. He took a pound-a-lead. I had one crocodile tooth in the liver. Dr. released me two days early said he ain't never seen such a tough piece-a-meat!"
"You will never be late .. will you Samuel?" Nor I think ever produce value, a PI specializing in grift-ridden family law! So enters laughing Samuel Levine, bottom-feeding bed-weasel, my useless BIL and Sarahs brother. "No doubt, Sam the strumpet paid you what you earned. Better I invited her ..."
"Nobody calls me Sam!" Sam tips a sodden pork-pie hat and removes the pea-coat weathered , dripping and threadbare. Orange tie and vest clash with decency. Only his brown wingtips advise success. "And bet'cha climb her ladder in a Detroit minute."
I spit. "Broch! Low-life!"
"One mans canape is another mans dessert." He slouches into a lounger. Broken glass touches his voice. "I spoke with Sarah, Saul and she is not happy." His face a few pounds less than chubby twists. "She suffers a good wife; mebby like the Rabbi says G*d watches ... while a rat bites your ass. I know a couple ..."
"Oh lordy, but you dare-not Samuel. Mercy sakes the PETA people will see you pilloried!" Schvindler hurries toward the womans deep southron drawl. Hurries and ... for a flaw worthy of replacement ... hurries behind ... behind Eve DeLeon.
"The ravishing Eve," I exclaim! Her Spanish leather boots move in silence; a flawless woman young women envy in naked black pearls and white wool Peck-&-Peck. The Detective , trailing muddy boot-prints is on her arm. Eve notices ...
"What a mess we've made of your rugs, Saul. Nicolas would have worn his peacocks, but Mr Betters guarded our front door ... insisted on the weatherproofs. Such a dear ..."
"No problemo Misses D. Nicky might'a hadto kick a duck out'a the road. I got steel-toe special built for that!"
DeLeon laughs. "That's OKey, Sammy, animal cruelty is only dyke screws, no heat and a month-of-dogs at County Detention. Of-course ... Department has a lil' off-site job in Costa Rica just waiting for a volunteer. Call it a vacation ... cause Cartel's been serving American tourista watered tequila. A bed, three squares and a check ... if you return. Even comes with life insurance ... insurance for a man one step slow ..."
"Nooo I ain't goin' to Casta Riccico. Sounds like thetarbaby gig Sargent Bowers and I played in La ... except betcha most Costas speak English. City Station took a month returning my Nikon; remember that Detective? Besides I hate new hemispheres; traveling south gives me hives like swarthy Jakes-on-a-plane. Makes ya dizzy ya know, the coreolis force spinning you around. And I choke on burritos; Uruguay steaks too. All meat no fat!"
Eve DeLeon pouts at her husband, turns flashing a Cheshire-Cat grin. "And Sammy, you would never find as good a martini as these ..."
"As they ought to be," I add remembering the quip:one martini at table, two at the very most. three I'm under the table, four I'm under the host. Smartly divided between very dry gin and smoked salmon, both chrome trays as in appearance and quiet movement the silk-vested , sequined black haired beauties at service. "Jane and Jill, my friends. Both ladies on exchange from Haifas' finest 3-star Michelin, they will provide both enigmatic smiles and our needs for the evening. Liquor, lobster, she-crab ... or prudence ... you will find no skill lacking in them."
Warily. "Skill like you wouldn't believe," gapes Samuel, too obvious seeing something that makes his eyes bulge. Have the Detectives eyes narrowed?
Rarely do I dissemble. An honest man, and a smart one has no need for such liberties. Indeed, both young women had worked at 8, restaurateur Roths epicurean 3-Star. "One on the right, Samuel, with 3 olives. Beefeater I believe is your preference." An execrable gin ... Jane holds out the icy crystal and Sam bolts from his lounger.
"She's not holding olives, but they float. 'bout time this boin didn't skimp on the liquor."
"Detention Center inmates brew their own from cabbage and turnips," quips the Detective handing Eve into a lounge. "Cheers Saul. Baby Jesus loves you," he tones, hiding well his distaste for anything , but Wild Turkey & ice.
"Who's missing," queries Eve, eyeing the empty loungers and busy smoothing and straightening her husbands tie. Manicured fingers glide, one over another. Both wear plain gold wedding-bands. Eves invisible ROCK, its source and care is a rumor among Battery and yacht club matrons about which the Detective will yield no privacy. MS PEEPERS --- the weekly gossip column Eve writes for the Charleston Gazette --- will allude to a Detectives Follywhen scolding Charleston excess, but whether the ROCK ... or DeLeon himself is meant ... or wayward friends always remains obscure.
"Two," queries Nicky? "By the loungers we expect 2 more." Stiff-shoulder before a judge, or casually comfortable in Swedish leather lux, I have noticed DeLeon sits like an expectant leopard. A deadly man, Detective Inspector Nick DeLeon, eyes aware, crystal in his left hand right never far from the open lapel of his pale linen evening-wear . He turns to me. "David and Ms. Ducks say 'hello' "
Dregs! DeLeons vile nickname for Daniella; my stomach churns, like the wasted life his son gives my precious daughter.Cold sweat on my lip; I say nothing. Then ... "where are they?"
DeLeon eyes me coldly. Say nothing. Then ..."Major DeLeon in somewhere in Bengal; says the locals are fierce.Daniella's stationed in Haldia, loaned out to DNI. She of-course can say nothing."
Daniella my starlite, my disowned beauty with suitors eager and wealthy and powerful abounding on either coast. A law school graduate who can say ... nothing, but follows a mercenary into ...Gotterdammerung!"And you know this ...?"
DeLeon chews on the possibilities. "People talk." Whispers abide a waterfall sound, as hush falls upon our parlour and noone will breath.
"You want to talk about THAT," pipes Andrew, breaking into a hopeless whorl-pool and pointing at the election map. "Trumps people tripped! Wisconsin just faded from blush to sky-blue. As I weight them, Trumps elector count dropped to 258."
Clatter of dice return and the call of field-bets. "Meat-packers gotta wear cheese on their heads shouldn't be electing Presidents."
"Between two Great Lakes ... I'll give them winter."
Eve. "Wisconsin Congress-critters?"
Andrews hand-wave brings a new screen. "Republicans equal or favored ... are likely to pick-up District 3." He returns the presidential screen. "But, we don't take wagers on Congressional races. Too local ... too provincial ... too risky for the cosmopolitan gambler with a big nickle."
Unspeakable simplicity ... "I'm sure our guests understand casino wager systems." I check my stainless Rolex: a confident dial reads 9:20:20 PM, Dec 21. "Andrew ... any word from Jerry?"
An iPhone appears ... fumbled ... Andrew hesitates ... "Jerry ... Ibn Ali ... He's close. Seems his driver got lane-slammed and lost somewhere off the Cross-Town."
"What's he doing there? He'll be in Mt. Pleasant before his Lincoln Town-car can turn 'round. "
"Something about a passenger."
"Passenger ... a girl. Jerry the ol' goat is bringing a girl, " exclaims a breathless Eve !
"Don't count on it, Sweet-pea," chuckles DeLeon. "Whatever Saul has in mind tonight, Jerry will scotch the obvious. Count on it! Passenger might be his astrologer or heart-surgeon."
"Or assassin," muses Hricko who ... as a sworn enemy knows Jerry better than most.
"Astrologer ... gal-pal ... bones ... mechanic ... such confusion so unlike Jerry," sings Eve standing and beckoning to Peachy. " Predictable him, always a smart dinner-jacket, staid as a dromedary. Won't you come with me, Peachy? With Wappo trying to swallow him, Jerry's bound to be a frightful fright and we can rescue his pigeon-du-jour when they enter ; find her the bar. We'll powder our nose till they arrive, or perhaps Sarah is at baccarat."
I cringe. "Unlikely. She feels unwell this evening and most likely retired until the storm ends."
"Poor dear ... my regards ... Jerrys' dove will due."
Peachy is biting her lip. "We just accost them at the front door? I've only met the man once," she cautions. "Something overweight in casual clothes I imagine."
"Jerry's a ... a diplomat of sorts. Diplomat or a spy," Eve whispers smiling.
Peachy eyes Hricko, who I believe knows too much. She say, "diplomatic gravitas, or polite to a fault; too polite for my taste."
Eve croons. "A woman is sooo much easier to ambush than a man."
"Benji says he's a schemer."
Eve demurs. "Perhaps ... scheme away the Saudi sybarite may, but maybe on such a godless night this fem spills Jerrys guts ... spills and trills after the 3rd Tanqueray." She giggles wisely. "No no not a chance Jerrys' chose a Burka-bound Saudi for companion." Eve winks at me. "Perhaps frisky as soft-17! Expect amusement, if not surprise from the Arab." Eve touches Peachys arm smartly. "His Government after-all employs him neither for his patience nor beliefs!"
Womanly smiles follow them from the parlour, across deep, silent wool rugs and into the maze of heart-pine cross-ways. A synthetic if not decadent venue ... women alone ... intent on mischief say the faces of DeLeon and Hricko. Men can worry. A lightening crack, and thunder search the casinos stout walls for entry. Lights flicker in the blackjack parlour. I summon Andrew. "See to the generator. We may soon be the only light in the city."
Indeed without electricity the City of G*d has gone dark, our perimeter cameras recording one column of light after another winking out. Harbor House remains a briskly lit solitary torch. Our 300 diners, gamblers and service have steadied hands and nerve with complementary Manhattans and a change from Reno to Las Vegas odds. Wisconsin remains blue.
"Lobsters to the grill," announces Jane in a comforting OxBridge clip only Mossad would train into its people.
We make amends to the last round of martinis. Ibn Ali Jerrahi arrives 15 minutes later, just as we leave the map parlour. His Lincoln waddles entry, water above the hubs and our doormen find him barefoot, bow-tie dangling, cuffs muddied ... delegating sharply to not one, but three retainers and squiring a spectral goddess onyx-black as the heart of Charleston.
"My physician, Davidson," the Arab fires coolly through the open doorway , "and by Allahs' 3rd beard do not remove her Beretta."