The Howl and the Pussycat
The club was like any other on the strip, but it was a great place to see
who was doing the moving and the shaking. I had done my own moving and
shaking earlier in the night with a pair of Fat Louie's boys who tried to
disagree with me. Now I was going to take a look and see if I could find
Fat Louie himself.
I made my way over to the bar and leaned in, waiting for Mitchell to make
his way over to me. Mitchell was a good one for spreading the news and
knowing what was going on as long as you slipped a bill beneath your empty
"Evnin, Mistah Steel," he said, grinning like a Cheshire cat as I sidled up
to the bar. "It's been some while since you last been in here. What can I
get foh yuh?"
I first met Mitchell in France; he'd arrived as a porter but somehow made
his way into the trenches. By the end of the war, he spoke French and
German fluently and could fight as well as any man I had met. He dumbed
himself down for the stooges that expected him to talk like that as he
"You seen Fat Louie?" I asked as I scanned the room, hoping to answer my own
"Well, ain't that a funny thing, you askin' that, Mistuh Steel," he replied
as he poured me a scotch. "Why, not fifteen minutes ago he rushed outta
here like the devil himself was chasin' him. Musta heard you was looking
It made sense, I thought. Louie's boys would have called and told their boss
of their lack of success. Now the fat man was either looking for more help
or a place to hide. Either way, it meant tonight at least would be easy.
"Well, I know you likes to talk with me, Mistuh Steele, but I got other
customuhs waitin' and I bet you can find somethin else to talk about in
here," He said with the barest of glances down the bar.
I turned my head and saw her. If I had any sense I would have run for the
door, but seeing a dame like that meant sense went out the window for most
men. She sat causally at the bar, sipping a martini and giving looks that
could melt ice. She sat with an ease of place and purpose, showing the
world that she wasn't waiting for anyone and she wasn't afraid to sit alone.
Deep green eyes peered out from beneath a cascade of red. They were cat's
eyes, a hunter's eyes, the sort of eyes that lead good men astray.
Thankfully I wasn't a good man, so I didn't have far to go.
The Chinese silk dress she wore was slit to the point of indecency, just the
way I like it. A golden leg stretched out like a highway to heaven, leading
men's eyes and wives' glares towards differing thoughts. Long, slim fingers
ended with wickedly pointed nails that shone in the dim light of the bar as
they clicked against the glass. They were claws of desire or death, and
depending on her mood, she probably dished out both evenly.
Her hair was the color of fire, a warning shade of red, here lies heat, stop
if you have the sense. I didn't stop. Walking over to her, I paused as
Mitchell refilled her glass.
"That's a strong drink," I said, my eyes never wavering from hers. "Can I
get you another?"
"I'm a strong girl, mac," she purred. "If you want to buy me a drink, you
can wait 'til I'm done with this one." Her voice was velvet on skin, it slid
across your ears more as a hint than a sound.
I set my scotch on the bar and leaned against it, pushing the intruding
stool out of the way. The drunk behind me complained slightly at the
intrusion, but quietened with a look. I was good at that. Slowly, I looked
her up and down, ran my eyes over her like an appraiser at an auction. Some
women complain of being ogled by that kind of look, but if you dress like
this and look like this and come to places like this, this is what you want.
"Well, mac, tell me when you're ready," she whispered.
"Why? You got somewhere you'd rather be?" I responded.
She took my challenge with a smile, as I knew she would. Her comment was to
scare away the little men, the weak who would be intimidated. I was
impressed, but never intimidated.
"Name's Ceylon," She said as she took a cigarette out of her case. My
lighter flashed to life and so did her eyes. The flickering flame danced
across her features, casting highlights and shadows and making those cat's
eyes glow almost unnaturally.
"Steele, John Steele," I responded. She didn't offer her hand, but I wasn't
offended. If things went right, she'd be offering a lot more.
"Ceylon, like the tea?" I asked.
"Only hotter," she replied.
I liked this dame. She was quick and she was ready, a real gunfighter in a
"Let's get something to eat," I suggested. "You do eat don't you?"
"Only when I'm hungry, Mister Steele. Only when I'm hungry."
The club was a great place to be seen, but a terrible place to eat. We
stepped out into the cool night air with every intention of making our way a
block south to Johnny's Place. Johnny's was a terrible place to be seen,
but the best place to eat. The door opened by appointment only, or if you
were a friend. I'd helped Johnny out a few years ago and he still
remembered the favor.
We had barely gone half the distance when a voice from the shadows spoke.
"Ok buddy, hand over your wallet."
I turned slowly to find a great big, dumb mug. Clenched in his over-sized
mit was a piece that looked like it might have belonged to his grandfather.
He had that look of hunger about him, not hardness. This was no
professional mug, he wasn't even an amateur mug, just some down on his luck
loser trying his hand at being bad.
"You don't want to do this," I warned. "It's a bad road to go down."
"You just shut up and give me..."
And that's as far as he got. A straight right followed by a left hook sent
him crashing into the building. He crumpled downwards just in time to be
buckled by a jab to the gut. I caught hold of him and pulled the gun from
his hand. Cracking it open, I smiled with satisfaction that my guess had
"Unloaded. See that, doll?" I said to her. The mug was starting to stir and
I was going to give him a crack with the butt end when I heard a voice.
"What's going on here?" said the flatfoot from the cruiser window.
I gave my most affable smile and said, "My buddy's just had a few too many
drinks. Taking him back to his car now."
"Well, you make sure he goes straight home." said the policeman.
"Oh I will," I vowed. "Goodnight, officer."
The flatfoot motioned to his partner and the two slid off along the
boulevard. I glanced around before giving the mug a shove into the darkness
of the alley, where he collapsed onto the ground. Taking his piece, I threw
it into the nearest trashcan before tucking a fin into his shirt pocket.
Straightening up, I looked directly into the eyes of Ceylon.
"Well, that was something else," she said. "What did you do all that for?"
"The mug didn't even have any bullets, just desperation. I've been
desperate myself. It makes you do foolish things. The best thing that can
happen to him now is to wake up sore and not in jail. The five will buy him
food and give him some thinking time. We all need thinking time," I
Ceylon smiled and the evening warmed considerably. "You'd better be
careful. I could fall for a man like you, Steele."