Back in Angel City...
Carlotta Wynn took one long last look around her small apartment dive. It wasn't much to look at, even less to speak of; but it had been her home for the last year, and for a brief moment a womanly pang of nostalgia... or was it fear of the unknown future... chilled her bones to the core, and she shivered as she stood in the door way.
Pursing her lips with sudden determination and steeling herself with a new strength of purpose, she closed the warped and paint-cracked door behind her, turned the lock and pocketed the key.
A small duffle bag hung off her shoulder... the contents of her entire life contained within, and she descended the rickety old stairs to the ground floor, opened the outer portal leading into the alley at the side of the house, and walked out into the wet precipitous night.
Puddles of water soaked her feet before she even reached the road at the end of the narrow lane. Her tights clung to her ankles and made them itch, but she resisted the temptation to stop and take them off. No time now. She needed to be away from here, and night was her friend and ally.
Stopping briefly at the corner connection where Dock and Anchor Street met, she ran her hands through her dripping hair and with a forced expression of confidence, she walked into the small drug store secreted between two tall warehouses on either side.
"Evening Licksy" She called over to the scruffy looking, string vested individual leaning on the counter and pouring over the racing pages in Miller's Gazette. She reached over her head and she dexterously numbed the ancient brass door bell as she entered the disorganized and half empty 24 hour convenience store. "Don't you ever sleep?" She bantered airily.
"Why good evening to you, missy" Licksy's usual lilting American/Irish brogue tinkled like running water in a clear mountain brook. "and er... no. Why pay someone decent money to do a job only half as well as I could do it myself in the first place. I can sleep all I want when I'm dead."
He bantered back, a wide smile on his rosy flushed face.
"Aah, Jeeeise, yer soaked through to the skin. Look, why don't yer come through into the back room with me and share a noggin o' the good stuff. All the way from the old country itself?"
Licksy moved over to the door and threw a couple of bolts across, and turned the sign in the window to CLOSED. He moved with an agility which defied his middle aged set, and his eyes were ever darting into the darkest corners seeking out potential trouble.
He opened a door behind the grimy wooden counter and led them both along a narrow passage which in turn took them to a wide storeroom at the back of the building. It was an open planned warehouse, and contained a myriad of stacked boxes of sundry goods... all things the rest of his legitimate business didn't normally make available to the public.
Licksy was a supplier. A procurer of merchandise; magically able to find the most hard to come by items which sometimes fell into his grasp from the dockland wharfs... for those with the money to afford them.
The back warehouse smelled of paraffin lamps, cigarette smoke, and whisky. A few misfit looking goons sat around a large table playing cards and gambling with piles of loose coin for fun, and a lifetime's habit.
When they spotted the newcomer, they stiffened instinctively. A few reached inside their jackets for rods, others fingered blades secreted in boot and belt. But when they realized who it was, toothy grins and a few happy winks quickly followed, accompanied by welcome words and the offer to sit in and join them in their game. Everybody liked the intelligent and headstrong woman and were genuinely delighted whenever she honoured them with her presence - which sadly, wasn't nearly often enough for their liking.
"Sorry boys, not tonight, I can't stop." Carlotta purred. But she gratefully accepted a glass of golden hued malt thrust into her hand and the Lucky Strike which was lit for her in the other.
Yes, Carly was a swell dame, and not one of the ugly mugs assembled wouldn't have given his right arm, dried out for a month, and taken a perfume bath if they thought they had an outside chance of winning her affections. But, in truth, each knew they could never aspire to catching the eye of the likes of this smouldering lady, and were content just to have her near... inhaling her Opium perfume and basking in her presence - falling over themselves to please her in any way they could.
"Aaah, give the lady some air now, will ya fellas." Licksy interjected amongst the clamber of happy voices. Mockingly brushing them off with friendly slaps and punches.
Carlotta took in the tall pile of boxes sitting at the back of the warehouse, near the wide double doors leading out into the back lane. Obviously Licksy's boys had just received a fresh assignment of 'wares' and excitement was running high in everyone tonight.
Licksy led Carlotta over to the kitchen camper stove in the makeshift dining area, and sat her down at a private table.
"Licksy, I have to go away."
The man sighed gently, and a sad smile appeared on his face. "Well I didn't think it was fer your health that you were walking the lonely streets at this time of the night, missy... are yer in trouble?"
"Kinda, yes." Carlotta conceded.
"Then you'll be needing my help, like as not." The man smiled more widely. "I... I can't pay you much, Licksy." Carlotta looked up into his eyes with genuine nervousness.
"Heaven preserve us... I don't want yer money, missy. You should know better than to insult me like that. We're friends, and if you need my help," he slammed his hand down on the table: "Then by all the saints what kind of a man would I be if I ignored a friend in need."
"Thanks Licksy." Carlotta's face softened, and leaning forward for a moment, she squeezed his hand in gratitude.
"So, shoot?" Licksy leaned back in his chair, suddenly putting on an exaggeratedly business like face, which made Carlotta smile, then a small burst of laughter escaped from her lips. Licksy was glad, he liked to see this woman smile... she didn't do nearly enough of that lately.
Carlotta's momentary outburst soon vanished, however, and was quickly replaced by her usual serious porcelain stare.
"I'll need a 9mm Luger and two spare centre-fire autoloader cartridges."
"So you're finally tired of that old Winchester I let you have back along?" Licksy teased. He had always thought the rod was altogether too clumsy for a refined woman to handle.
"No, I'll still be needing that for back up... and a few more slugs for it too please, Licksy."
Licksy looked slightly worried, and a frown appeared on his forehead. "You're expecting some fierce shenanigans then. Carly, what sort of trouble are you...?"
"Please, don't Licksy." Carlotta cut him off abruptly. But Licksy merely put his hands up in a placatory gesture, then shook his head even more sadly.
"And I need them now I'm afraid. I... I have to lie low for a while, and I don't think I'll be able to come back later for any of this."
"Jeeeise woman, you're not planning coming back at all are you?" His shrewd eyes narrowed with wise comprehension, and when Carlotta's silent stare was all the answer he received, he knew for sure he was right.
"Here's the key to my flat, it's paid up for a while as you know, but you can rent it out again at once if you want to, I won't mind." Carlotta drank deeply from her glass of law prohibited whisky and her hands shook slightly.
"No, no... nooo Carly, this isn't the way at all. Let me help, I'm sure together we can...."
"...NO, Licksy!" Carlotta's eyes flashed with fire. But she sighed, and calmed down immediately when she saw her old friend's hurt expression.
"Licksy, I have to do this alone. Please try and understand." She smiled weakly. But conviction was in her voice as she spoke; and her hands had stopped shaking altogether.
© 2008, Stephen A Gilbert