"The Scarlet Courtesan of Sovereign City"
A Fortune McCall Tale
by: Derrick Ferguson
PRO SE PRESENTS Masked Gun Mystery #2
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Once Upon A Time In 1935...
Sovereign City was as good place as New York or Chicago to either hide from enemies or conduct illegal business. The entire city had been corrupt for as long as anybody who lived there could remember, ever since the still unsolved murder of old Gervaise Ravel, the last honest mayor to hold office. Not that Sovereign City was all that bad a place to live in. The schools were nothing to brag about and the rich got richer while the poor stayed poor. But then again, that was pretty much the condition all over the country. The garbage got picked up on time and the graft got paid. So all in all, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
The collection of clip joints, bars and warehouses along the waterfront were alight with the usual unsavory motley polyglot of rogues despite the fact that the sun had gone down not more than a short hour ago. Some of the buildings looked as if they were only being held together by a heavy coating of grimy filth. The windows let in little light and considering the kinds of transactions going on inside, it was better that way.
The man sitting at a back booth of The Alabaster Flask had a stylish storm cloud grey Fortier fedora pulled low over his forehead, a calf-length trench coat the exact same shade as his hat covering his black tie evening suit. He poured himself another shot of blended whisky from the bottle at his elbow and eyed the entrance warily. He plucked back the cuff of his black Italian kidskin leather glove to look at the Swiss Army Infantry watch on his left wrist. His contact was fifteen minutes late. I’ll give him another five minutes and then-
The main door of the establishment swung open and conversations in the room briefly dropped to a rumbling hush as hands went to guns, no matter if they were openly holstered or hidden. The newcomer was surveyed and since he owed no one there money or hadn’t produced a weapon of his own, he was not shot and he walked on to the booth in the back.
“You’re late, Korbel.”
Anton Korbel shrugged. “For what I have, you would have waited.”
The man toyed with his shot glass. “And what exactly is it that you have?”
Korbel sat down, amusement on his swarthy face. “Ah, my friend, this is not how Anton Korbel works. You have something to show me first, do you not?”
The man held up a thick envelope. “Your money is in here. Five thousand dollars. But you don’t get it until you answer a few questions.”
Korbel shrugged. “Maybe I can, maybe I can’t. Ask.”
“There’s a woman I am looking for. A woman who is very important to me. I want her back. I want to know who has her. I want you to tell me. Do so and you will have made an easy five thousand dollars.”
Korbel looked impatient. “Let us be frank with each other, okay? I agreed to meet with you because I thought I could make some quick money. But the people behind your friend disappearing are too powerful for me to monkey with. You haven’t been here in Sovereign that long so you don’t know who you’re playing with.”
The man shrugged and sighed. He leaned forward. “Korbel. Listen to me carefully and closely. Because I need you to understand that I mean what I say. I’m prepared to do some seriously impolite atrocities upon your person if that will help get my friend back. I implore you not to force me to have to resort to such uncivilized behavior.”
Korbel’s eyes couldn’t have gotten any larger. “I had heard you were a most reckless and foolish young man. Now I suppose we will have to do this the hard way.” Korbel raised his voice. “Hey! HEY! Listen up, everybody!”
Conversation died as the assemblage of men and women turned to look at Korbel.
“This twit’s got five thousand bucks on him. Anybody who helps me cut it out of him gets ten percent.” Korbel jumped up from the table and backed away, grinning maliciously.
Men shuffled to their feet as knives and machetes, their edges glittering in the dim light were produced. The entrance was slammed shut and secured with a thick wooden bar. Women sensuously licked their painted lips at the prospect of watching murder being done.