Serial Saturday: The Figurine, Part 1

Jefferson Quinn took a sip of his drink and grimaced. The bartender had called it Bourbon, had showed him the bottle and everything, but he was pretty sure it was mostly water and something he didn’t even want to think about giving it color. And what whiskey was in it was probably Canadian. It was a crime to sell something like that to a man from West Virginia, but then they might not know any better, here on the outskirts of Boston. He shook his head. It was tragic, the places his job took him to at times.

He stood and took the drink, whatever it was, to a rickety table in the corner. From what he heard, prohibition was going to be repealed soon, and maybe he’d be able to stop hanging around speakeasies. It really was a depressing place. There was a little stage, but no one was playing on it tonight, not on a Tuesday.

Fortunately, Sullivan wasn’t long in arriving. That was no surprise–you could practically set your watch by when he came in every night. The bartender didn’t even ask what he wanted, just poured him something from a bottle labeled rye. Sullivan slumped over the bar, taking the occasional disconsolate sip, and for a while Jefferson left him to it.

Finally, he made his way to the bar and sat down next to Sullivan. “You look like a man with a powerful weight on his shoulders, friend,” he said. He took a cautious sip of his won drink. “If you don’t mind my saying.”

For a moment, there was a surprised expression expression on Sullivan’s face, like he was about to laugh. Then he half-turned away and grunted, his face going blank again.

“That bad, huh?” Jefferson said. The bartender approached. “I’ll keep working on this for a while,” Jefferson said, pulling his glass back a bit, “but give him another.”

“Look, buddy,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t come here for conversation.”

Jefferson regarded the other man for a moment. He was tall, though not as tall as Jefferson, but quite a bit wider, with a muscular frame just beginning to go to fat. He had close-shorn hair and a face that was starting to get florid, either from the drink or irritation.

“Fair enough,” Jefferson said. “But sometimes it can help to talk to someone who maybe understands a man’s problems.”

Sullivan did laugh at that, a short, humorless bark. “You have no idea of my problems,” he muttered.

“Oh, now, you’d be surprised,” Jefferson replied, and took a meager sip from his glass.

“Screw off,” Sullivan muttered.

Hrya-ta ch’yack chall,” Jefferson said quietly.

The words made Jefferson feel slightly ill on their way out, but the effect on Sullivan was even more dramatic. He stiffened slightly, and his florid face drained of color.

“Easy,” Jefferson said, half-raising an arm so he’d be ready to prop Sullivan up if he started to slide off the stool.

“What?” How do you-” Sullivan stammered.

“Have a drink,” Jefferson said. Sullivan did, gulping from his glass. “You’re not the only one who’s poked around in what you’ve been studying, friend,” he continued. He looked around. “But this ain’t the best place to talk about it. Why don’t you finish up and we’ll find someplace else for a discussion.”

Sullivan drained his glass and Jefferson slid over what was left of his Bourbon. It was a lot of liquor in a short time, but Sullivan looked to need it, and anyway Jefferson reckoned it was all more than half water.

Sullivan sipped from the glass. “Maybe I don’t want to talk to you somewhere else,” he said. “Maybe it isn’t such a good idea.”

Jefferson sighed. “There really ain’t no need to get all tetchy about this. I’m just trying to help. And you’ve got to know by now that you could use a friend.”

“But how do I know you’re a friend?”

Jefferson assumed a thoughtful expression at that, and slowly fished out his pack of Lucky Strikes. He offered the pack to Sullivan, who shook his head, then pulled out a cigarette and slid it into his mouth before pulling a book of matches from another pocket of his coat. He lit the cigarette and shook out the match before dropping it in the ashtray on the bar.

“Well,” he said at last. “I guess I don’t have time to convince you of that, really.” He replaced the Luckies in his shirt pocket, this time holding his jacket open long enough for Sullivan to get a look at one of the pistols hanging under it.

“You planning to shoot me right here in the bar?” Sullivan asked.

“Nah,” Jefferson said. He tapped off some ashes. “Nah, I’d likely follow you home and shoot you there, Mr. Sullivan. Or maybe at work, out at the grocers, something like that.” He sighed again. “I do hate to talk like this, you understand. But ‘needs must when the Devil drives,’ as my mawmaw used to say. Believe me, there are plenty who’d call shooting you ‘Plan A’, with what you might know.”

Sullivan slumped even more in his stool. “Fine,” he said quietly. “I’ll talk.”

“For the best,” Jefferson said. He looked up as the bartender approached, and pulled several bills from his pocket. “No more for us, thanks,” he said, laying the money on the bar. He clapped Sullivan on the shoulder and stood. “Let’s go.”

“Hot one, ain’t it?” Jefferson said as they made their way out into the fading light of the afternoon. “Bet ya’ain’t used to this up here in Massachusetts.”

“I don’t know,” Sullivan said vaguely. “Where are we going to talk?” He seemed almost eager, now. Because of course, just like Jefferson had said, he did have a weight on his shoulders. One heavy enough that the prospect of shifting a bit of it was worth talking to someone who’d threatened to kill him. Jefferson could understand that.

“Why don’t we start out in your car?” he said. Sullivan nodded and led the way down the sidewalk. Sullivan’s old Packard wasn’t far off–it was a quiet part of town, and the heat had kept away most of the remaining folks who might have been around.

“We’ll both slide in through the passenger side, if you don’t mind,” Jefferson said as they neared the car. Sullivan nodded and went around to the passenger door. He slide in and across the bench seat until he was behind the wheel, and Jefferson followed him in. The interior of the car was stiflingly hot, and Sullivan rolled his window down as Jefferson made a quick examination of things.

“Gotta check your glove box if you don’t mind,” he said. “I’d just hate to have a gun floating around here that I didn’t know about.” He popped his cigarette in his mouth.

“No, wait,” Sullivan said, and Jefferson slid his right hand under his jacket to grasp the Smith and Wesson as he opened the glove box with his left.

“Hell’s bells,” Jefferson said.

“It’s just…” Sullivan said, and trailed off.

Jefferson felt a bead of sweat fall from his nose as he lifted the figurine from the glove box. He knew what it was going to look like before he even got a good look, because of the familiar feeling it gave off. An amphibian figure, but horribly human in its way.

“Well now,” Jefferson said around his cigarette. “This isn’t good, Mr. Sullivan.” His throat had suddenly gone dry, and was reaching for the Lucky in his mouth when the rear doors of the Packard opened. He started to turn, seeing Sullivan doing the same out of the corner of his eye.

“Let’s just keep your hands where I can see them,” came a voice in Jefferson’s ear, along with the feel of a pistol barrel on the back of his neck.


Copyright © 2012 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on April 7, 2012.