There's a coffee-shop on the corner of a street not too far from the tenement where someone did for Dick, which is where I headed. I gave up smoking some years back but the cravings never went away, so I focussed them on something else: coffee. Coffee, black as my soul, sweet as a mother's love, and aromatic as a hobo living in a butcher's dumpster. They know me in the coffee-shop, so the barista didn't spit in my cup.
I sat at a table in the window of the shop watching the world go by outside and listening to the quiet sobs of the shop's owner in the back room, thinking about this new case. Pussy had offered me a retainer, a small wad of large bills tossed onto Dick's chest next to the stiletto. I'd taken it, and the stiletto too, though the sucking noises it made as I pulled it free reminded me of my grandmother drinking soup. It was on the table in front of me know; bright red except where the bloodstains turned it rusty brown, with small gobbets of tissue still clinging to the heel. It was a size 6, which told me only that whoever had stamped on Dick's chest had some decent lower body strength. It wasn't enough to go on, I needed to find a witness.
I slurped my coffee, feeling the sensual liquid burn the back of my throat, and an older woman in a three-piece suit with a large, hooked nose turned to the barista and said,
"Do you have to let the homeless in here like that?"
"He doesn't have to do anything of the sort, lady," I said, my voice growling at the bottom of its register. Sugar does that to me. "I pay my money to be in here like anyone else."
"Well, really!" she sniffed, turning away.
I pointed at a small, scruffy dog tied up just outside the coffee shop and visible through my window and the barista nodded once before going to empty the filters on the coffee maker. His name's Vincent, and I once saved his sister's virtue. It was an accident, but neither of them know that.
I downed my coffee, feeling it pool in my stomach like molasses, and waited. The kick from the caffeine came fast and hard, followed by the kick from the sugar. I coughed, just the once, and got to my feet.
Outside the shop I untied the dog and shambled away, another homeless person with his canine goodwill-attractor. Now I had a bargaining chip I knew where I could go to find me a witness. I disappeared down a side-street that started off paved and rapidly turned to mud, and from there I walked through a rusted gate, across an overgrown garden and through an uninviting doorway into a derelict house. Through the house, and out the other side, into a maze of little streets, and from there a set of swift turns. I was aware that there were mobile shadows all around me, but there are some things even scavengers and carrion birds won't touch, and I'm one of those things.
I stopped at an abandoned, burnt-out dairy, and kicked the dog until it yelped. Then I waited.
A breathy voice, foetid like the inflow at a sewage treatment plant, whispered my name from behind my left shoulder. I shuddered, a reflex reaction, and slowly turned around. There was no-one there.
"Gabrial," I said, my voice still gravelly from the sugar in my coffee. "I've come to trade."
"You're trading flesh for what?" Gabrial's voice had liquid consonants like a man trying not to drown while he talks to you. It reminded me of my water-boarding days.
"Information, Gabrial. Someone's murdered Dick Whittington."
"There's always another body, McArthur, you should just keep on looking. I can't help you," gurgled Gabrial, still invisible, still sounding as though he were behind me.
"I can find out who did it for myself," I said. "I need a witness though, someone to set my feet on the right tracks. That won't breach your code."
There was a wet chuckle that might have come from my left side. "You think you know me so well, McArthur, don't you? You think that Gabrial can be bought with a puppy and that justice can be measured by the likes of you? Very well, little man, you may have your Witness and I shall have my delight with your furry friend. The name you need is Bernstein, and you will find him at the church of my baptism."
I dropped the dog's leash and left without another word, though my mind was racing. There had been an odd emphasis on the word witness there, and Gabrial liked his little jokes. I would have to do a little more investigation before I found the church of his baptism and put myself out there, in the line of sight. And I would have to go back to the coffee shop and collect the stiletto I'd left on the table there....