Chapter Two

I lay in bed for a while, my head still swirling drunk and every sound in the room echoing in my head, from the ticking clock to the dripping tap. I closed my heavy eyelids and tried to get a little rest. Interrupted sleep is never good for a hangover, and I cursed Bryant for ruining a perfectly nice drunken slumber.

But a few moments of rest was all I got before I heard the phone ring. I wondered why a hole like this even bothered with a phone. It wasn't exactly the place to conduct business, or catch up with loved ones. I willed the ringing to stop, but the persistent shrill did not cease, forcing me to get up and pick the receiver.

"Jake?" Through the haze of nausea, I recognized the familiar voice, and along with it, a sense of urgency. "Where were you all night?"

I was in no mood for any more interrogations, even if it was an anxious broad, rather than a goddamn gumshoe.

"Why? What happened ..." I searched for her name in the fog of alcohol. "... Alice?"

"I just got a call. Some guy was asking for you. He sounded angry ... and dangerous."

I frowned. This certainly was odd. How the hell did they even get her number? I squinted as I considered who it could have been.

"Irish bloke?" I asked as I seated myself at the edge of the table, rubbing my forehead, hoping from some respite from the pounding headache that had just started.

"No. He sounded foreign."

Must be the French guy, I thought. The annoying prick was closing in on me. But this was no reason to involve Alice.

"Don't you worry about it. Just disconnect the phone. And wait for me at the house."

"Ok. But Jake?"

"What?"

"I think someone's outside, watching the house."

"Ah flippin' hell! Must be the goddarn tracer."

"Who? "

"Bryant. That's who. The nutter's completely lost the frickin' plot."

"But why? What happened?"

"Hell! I wish I knew." And I really wished I knew what had happened. "Some copycat job at Cohen's last night, and suddenly I'm his suspect No. 1."

"Jesus, Jake!"

"It'll all be ok. Stay at home. Don't let nobody in and don't venture out until I'm there." And I meant it. I didn't want her wandering into the arms of the law. In this city, hookers and the law never do get along well.

"Ok. But come by here as soon as you can." She hung up.

I sat back on the bed, rubbing my aching forehead, contemplating if I should go back to bed and rest or take care of all this unfinished business. Bryant was always going to be a pain in the neck, but now I also had to contend with the French guy. Jean, his name was, if I recalled correctly. And then there was Alice, the blonde skirt. The broad was annoying but loyal and sweet, and probably the only one I could trust in this godforsaken city.

I picked up a half burnt cigarette that lay on the table and lit it. I lay watching the thin trail of smoke wafting lazily up into the air. I certainly could never get myself to trust the French guy. The insane idiot would go to any lengths to get back at me, ever since I shafted him over on the last heist. He had already threatened me in no uncertain terms, and was out there hunting for me.

But luckily for me and Alice, Bryant was at the moment inadvertently protecting Alice from Jean or anyone else who might come looking for me. So there was no need to panic immediately.

I walked to the basin, crushed the cigarette butt and rinsed my face. I looked into the mirror and at the red and swollen eyes that stared back at me. Drunken nights don't do a lot of wonders to a pretty mug. I splashed some more cold water onto my eyes, and grabbed my faded torn jacket that lay on the chair.

I opened the front door and walked out into the corridor. It was darker than I had expected, and gloomy, with the smell of cigarettes and booze filling the air. A homeless wino lay by the stairs, sloshed and probably half-dead. I left the apartment, and looked up at the skies. The sun had just risen and everything looked strange and alien. It was probably the first time I had ever left my house so early in the many years I had been here. It was chilly and I pulled the jacket closer to myself.

A few streets later, I stood in front of the familiar red building. I looked around but saw no one. Empty roads, bereft of anyone but parked cars, and the cars seemed empty and harmless.

I knocked at the blue door. No answer. I knocked again. No answer again. I look around for any sign of Alice. I peeked into the windows, but could only see the curtains and shadows. I looked down at the doorstep. Coming from under the door, was a thin trail of blood. I stared at the blood for a while. How bad could a day get? I closed my eyes and tried to think clearly, already feeling the panic I had hoped not to feel.

The End

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