I return! Now let’s see if I can get this wrapped up be before year’s end…
Patrick Rourke sat across from me, leaning back against the plush booth of the diner. He was sitting with his hands folded on the table, an untouched mug of coffee in front of them. I sat on the other side of the booth, a mug between my own hands. I stared down into the inky black surface, imagined I could see my face staring back at me. I couldn’t of course. But it would have been a nice image, like something out of a book, or a movie. “So, which one of us is going to crack and talk first, huh?”
“I guess that would be you,” Rourke said.
“Fine, I’ll bite. Why’d you spring me? Don’t you know I murdered your old man?”
Rourke stared at me coolly. “No, you didn’t.”
“Sure I did. Cops kicked open your front door and found me in the bedroom with a gun in my hand and Rourke the Elder flat on the floor. Maybe I didn’t put a bullet in him, but they say I scared him half to death.” Despite myself, I grinned. “Then a bit more, I guess.” What the hell was wrong with me? This guy had gotten me out of prison, and here I was mocking him. What little I knew of Patrick Rourke told me he didn’t have much of a sense of humor. If I pissed him off, he’d send me right back to the cell I’d come from.
Or else kill me on the spot. He was so rich and I was so nothing that he probably wouldn’t even get in that much trouble for it. I could see the headlines now. VICIOUS KILLER SHOT DEAD BY GRIEVING SON. Something like that but with a little more punch to it.
Sure enough, Rourke leaned forward and frowned, his lips pressed together in a line so thin you’d think someone had carved it into his face. “Don’t play stupid, Detective. I know it was the bitch’s idea. But I don’t think you were in on it. I think she was playing you for a patsy, and you’ve got just enough hero in you that you charged right into it.” He leaned back, folded his hands again. “Or else you’re just an imbecile.” He paused for a moment before reaching into his jacket for a smoke. “Or more likely, it’s both.”
“You’re a real flatterer, Mr. Rourke.”
“What I am, Detective, is direct.” He took a long draw on his cigarette, exhaled, slowly. “My father was a bitter old man whom married a showgirl whore instead of dying with dignity and grace.” Rourke leaned forward and tapped his fingers forcefully against the diner tabletop. I imagined that this was the dignified and graceful equivalent of slamming one’s fist down. “That girl is so far beneath my family that it’s like something out of Dickens. A street rat. And Italian, to boot! A Catholic! Can you believe that? A Catholic in the Rourke family?”
“Isn’t ‘Rourke’ kind of an Irish name, anyway?” I asked after it became clear he expected some kind of a response from me.
His nostrils flared. For a second I thought he might reach across the table and slap me. I smiled, partially to play up the idea that I was dumber than him (which I’m not. Less educated, certainly, but not less intelligent) and partially because I was genuinely pleased to see the blue-blooded bastard’s air of rich superiority dissolve for a moment and a recognizable human emotion take its place.
“Do you hear an ‘O’ in front of it, Detective?” he said once he’d regained his composure. “Besides, there’s all the difference in the world between a good English name like Rourke and that Italian nonsense. ‘Di Campani.’ Ugh. Practically savage.” Rourke shook his head, like there was some kind of niggling insect he was trying to shoo away. Probably it was me. “This is beside the point. No more interruptions.” He cleared his throat. “That woman killed my father, and now she’s going to get my inheritance. I won’t stand for that.”
I let my eyes begin to wander around the diner. We were the only ones in our corner, and Rourke was doing a good job of keeping his voice low, but this was hardly a private setting for whatever clandestine scheme he was trying to hatch. “What exactly are you getting at, Mr. Rourke?” His eyes met mine, and I smiled that dumb, hapless smile again. “Please, fill me in. Directly.”
“I want Elizabeth removed from the picture.”
I stood up. “I’m not a hatchet man, Mr. Rourke.”
He snorted and waved dismissively at me. “Sit down, Detective. Of course you aren’t. But I don’t want to see her dead. I want to see her rotting in a prison. That will require evidence. That’s where you come in.”
“And if I don’t help you, I’m going to find myself back in a cell awaiting trial for murder, is that it?”
Rourke smiled. “Very good. You understand the gravity of your situation, and you have something motivating you beyond mere avarice.” Rourke stood up then, stepped into the aisle between the various dining tables, and put on his hat. “Benjamin will be your point of contact with me when necessary. Can’t have you meeting up with me arousing undue suspicion, don’t you think?” Rourke paused for a moment, frowned as some errant thought skittered through his head. “You remember Benjamin, don’t you? Our Negro friend? Or were you too liquored up on the job to bother learning his name? Well, no matter. Good day, Sir. Don’t disappoint.”
Rourke walked away, leaving me alone at the table, and with the bill for our coffee, the cheap bastard. But the thought of paying was far from my head, as were Rourke and Elizabeth and all the rest. Right then, I just wanted a decent meal, a warm bed, and a bottle of whiskey, and I didn’t much care what order I got them in.