It was cold. Damn cold.
Not the stick-your-head-in-an-icebox, on a hot summer day kind.
I mean the kind that made your teeth chatter, your ass numb, and your nipples hard.
It was the second week of April and we thought spring was upon us, but it looked like Mother Nature had one last fling to achieve before she retired for the winter.
It was nine o’clock; by the time I walked the five blocks from my office to Mikey’s Bar and Grille.
The wind tried to impede my progress every step of the way, it cut through my jacket and reddened my face.
But, to the victor go the spoils, as I opened the door that led down into the bar.
A single bulb with a pull chain hung from the ceiling.
It was off. I turned it on.
After my eyes adjusted and my blood flowed freely again, I lit a cigarette and made my way down the flight of stairs, side-stepping a pile of red and yellow vomit.
I went into the bar.
Mike (Mikey) Smalls was the proprietor.
All of his six foot six, four hundred pound frame was facing the liquor bottles. He had a clipboard in his hand, taking inventory.
I surveyed the room.
It was virtually empty for a Sunday night, with four other patrons milling about.
A good-looking blonde couple were at the pool table and from the sullen look on the guy’s face, it looked like his girlfriend was beating him.
I turned my attention to one of the five booths.
Two elderly men were sitting across from each other. Gazing longingly, I thought, at one another through booze induced retinas.
On the other hand, they may have died that way.
I walked to the bar and snuffed out my cigarette.
Mikey’s was the only place in the Utica area that allowed smoking in its establishments.
Either by hook or crook, it didn’t matter. What Mikey decided, nobody questioned.
“Hey big guy,” I said and took a stool.
He turned and gave me a bearded, gap-tooth grin.
“If it ain’t Saint Nicholas,” he said.
My name is Nick Stone, but he was the only one I ever allowed to call me by my birth name.
He threw the clipboard aside, grabbed a bottle of Heineken, a double shot of Canadian Club, and placed them in front of me.
I downed the whisky and drank half the beer.
I took great pleasure in the heat, as it coursed through my body.
“Pretty quiet,” I said and lit a cigarette.
“Inventory night usually is.”
I drank the last of my beer. Mikey gave me another.
“See those two men over there?”
“Yeah?” He said.
“You might want to check on them. They look to be in a coma.”
“Tom and Jerry always look like that.”
“Tom and Jerry?” I asked, incredulously.
He raised his right hand.
“Honest to God,” he said.
“Did that guy from Laredo Falls show up yet?”
“They’re in my office.”
I cocked my head.
“They?” I asked.
He looked like he swallowed the canary.
“Stryker’s in there too.”
I slapped a hand to my forehead in mock despair.
“Jesus. You didn’t hear any gunfire, did you?”
Ricardo Stryker was a friend and a sometime business associate of mine.
He went to Rangoon and wasn’t due back until next week.
“Nope. They’ve been as quiet as church mice.”
“That’s even worse,” I said.
Stryker and I were on opposite sides of the law.
I was paid to find people. He was paid to kill them.
We’ve been friends our entire lives and he figured by helping me; he would earn his Good Samaritan Points.
Although money always tasted better when you killed someone.
I stood up.
“I better get in there.”
“By the way,” I said. “There’s some red and yellow vomit in your stairwell, I thought you could use it in your chili.”
He laughed. It was a frightening sound.
“Might taste better,” he said.
I grinned, took another beer, and went to his office.
It was cold. Damn cold.