I retraced my steps through the seedy back-alleys of the city, places I've walked from an early age. These back-alleys are like my veins and arteries: twisted, polluted, and leading to a dark and crumbling heart. I feel comfortable here, and it's always a slight wrench to have to venture back out into the daylight and the relatively clean streets of the burg.
Outside the coffee-house the hook-nosed woman in her three-piece suit was having hysterics over the loss of her dog. By the looks of it she'd already thrown the contents of her paper takeaway coffee cup over a traffic warden, and I could see a policeman approaching rapidly from behind her. I sighed, the police would undoubtedly recognise the stiletto as evidence from a crime and want to know what I was doing with it. I'm known in most police stations in this city, but not for being on the right side of the desk. When I was younger I used to take part in identification parades for the cash, until the fifth time I was picked out by a witness and the police arrested me on suspicion of being suspicious. That was just the start of a long time of meeting the police and us both wishing that we'd looked the other way.
I went into the coffee-house anyway, if I could at least hide the shoe until the police had gone I'd be able to leave discreetly.
Miss Sapphire was sitting at the table I'd had previously, toying with the stiletto in her leather-gloved hands. I paused in the doorway, trying to stamp down on the twisted emotion that rose inside me. Miss Sapphire is a woman I've never dared to love, and there isn't a day goes by that I don't remind myself why. She looked up, and met me with a piercing blue gaze that sent shivers down my spine.
"McArthur," she said, with minimal disgust in her voice. "I thought this had to belong to you. What other worm in this city would walk off leaving the evidence behind?"
"Miss Sapphire," I said, trying to make my voice sound more like a purr than a growl. I only managed to sound like a hyena with bronchitis.
"Oh, you can have it back," she said. "I'm here to give you a message from Mad Frankie." Mad Frankie, the guy who'd cauterised my tear ducts to stop me giving him the evil eye, and whose close henchmen were popularly known as the Anger Management. "He says that a dear friend of his has met an untimely end."
"Mad Frankie liked Dick?"
"Trust you to make it sound sordid, McArthur." Miss Sapphire laid the stiletto down on the table and reached into her handbag, a powder blue clasp bag, and pulled out a gin miniature. "Policitians need men of power, and Mad Frankie..."
"Mad Frankie liked having the Mayor where he could see him," I said flatly. "You know darlin', I've been around this burg for long enough. I know Mad Frankie, I knew Dick. I can see how this sausage party goes."
She raised an eyebrow at me, and I wondered if I'd overstepped a line.
"However you choose to describe their... acquaintance," she said carefully, "Mad Frankie does not like having his --"
"Employees?" I suggested. I've never been one to tiptoe across the tightrope with my arms spread wide for balance. I prefer to dance on the edge of the precipice and spit in the devil's eye.
"Hah." No trace of laughter in her voice. "Find out who did for Dick, McArthur. Mad Frankie wants to know."
"I'm already looking," I said, holding my hand out and nodding toward the shoe. "Dick's ladyfriend asked me first."
Miss Sapphire knocked the miniature back in one, her head tilting backwards revealing an alabaster neck like that of a swan, and her brunette hair fell from her shoulders to past the level of her seat. Then she stood, and approached me, and pressed the shoe into my hands as she placed her lips by my ear.
"I know you don't care for Pussy, Mac. But I also know you do care for what's left of your rotten little soul. Find the killer, and tell Mad Frankie, and then leave it all alone."
My skin tingled, the raw alcohol fumes washing over it and reminding me of better times in bars that have long since been condemned. My eyes closed unconsciously, and I rocked on my feet, turning my face to hers to drink in those blissful gin-fumes.
I opened my eyes again, and Miss Sapphire was gone.