Of All the Gin Joints in the World

The rain had begun shortly before five, and hadn’t let up since then. I splashed through the puddles as I crossed the street, and I was almost clipped by a Chevy Bel Air. I’d been too wrapped up in my own thoughts that I hadn’t seen the car barreling down the street. It honked its horn and I threw the bird after it as it turned the corner. The rain beat steadily against my umbrella, and the neon lights of the gin joints and gambling halls reflected in the puddles of rainwater that had gathered in the potholes and gutters of the street.

I walked into a cocktail bar called The Wicked Social. Its neon sign was flickering in and out of existence, and soon it would just be called The Social. It wasn’t close to last call, but by the inside of the joint, you’d have thought it was already closed. My yellow dress stood out in a joint like this. The black obsidian bar and the bottles of black liquor absorbed the lights. Old, blue-grey smoke hung from the ceiling like a factory’s smokestacks. Two walls were red brick that may have well been black.

I found her in the back, alone and curled up in an egg chair. Her black leggings and white crop sweatshirt stood out sharply against the red fabric of the chair. “Lorelai,” I said.

Lorelai opened her pale eyes and looked up at me through a few lose strands of straw-colored hair. “Tell me, Tabitha, do you like Suzuki?” she asked, pushing the headphones off her ears.

“Suzuki?”

“Sleepy Suzuki,” Lorelai answered. “I used to be a lounge singer, you know.”

“I know. That’s how we met.”

“That’s right. Sammy Casati’s old place on Vine Street. What was it called again?”

“The Vine Street Lounge,” I said. “Come on, it’s time.”

“Sleepy Suzuki makes such soulful music. You can hear his heart in his piano work.”

“Lorelai.”

“What does it matter anyway?” Lorelai put the headphones around her neck and stood up. “At least I got to listen to him one last time.”

“Don’t be like this, Lorelai.”

“Don’t be like what, Tabitha? I’m not the one who–”

I grabbed Lorelai by the arm and pulled her close. “Listen here, Lorelai. I don’t have the time or the energy to put up with your games.”

“Why don’t you just do it right now then?” Lorelai asked.

“Come on.” I pulled Lorelai away from the table and out of the bar. “Do you have an umbrella?”

“No, why would I?”

“Here.” I opened the umbrella above us, slipping an arm around Lorelai’s waist to keep her close and to stop her from running away.

“Why are you doing this?” Lorelai asked.

“It costs nothing to be polite,” I said. “But I don’t like doing this. I don’t relish this job.”

“Then why do you do this?”

I shrugged. “You of all people, Lorelai, should know what happens when someone tries to leave the Outfit.”

“I wasn’t trying to leave,” Lorelai said.

The rain had slackened off to a drizzle by now, but the occasional clap of thunder warned that more would be on its way. Steam was rising from underneath the city, coming up from the subway system through grates and manhole covers. Lorelai stepped in a puddle and groaned as the water soaked in through the thin canvas sneakers she was wearing. Long shadows were cast across her face, and I found it hard to get a read on her emotions.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll make it quick and easy, and leave you pretty enough for an open casket funeral when they dredge you out of the harbor.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Lorelai asked.

A car drove by, and it slowed down as it passed us. Someone shouted something at us, but they were too drunk to be heard clearly.

“No, it’s supposed to make me feel better.”

We were walking along the waterfront now. The Lockheed Marine Works yards were across the harbor, light up like a birthday cake even in this weather. There was no boat traffic, and even the tourists had retired to bed. The air smelled of salt and fish, but I could still smell a cloying hint of peppermint from Lorelai.

“Why do you do this?” Lorelai asked.

“It puts bread on the table.”

“There’s a million other jobs you could do.”

“I’ve only ever been good at one thing, and ever since the Mutiny, there’s been less and less legal killing that needs doing.”

Lorelai stopped. “Here?”

“This is fine.”

I unhooked my arm from her waist and took a step back.

“This is where I had my first,” Lorelai said, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“This exact spot?” I reached into my purse for my gun, a silenced .22.

“Maybe, I don’t know. Somewhere along the waterfront.”

“I’m sorry, Lorelai.”

“You know my cat, Mr. Whiskers?”

I nodded my head. “Yeah, I know him.”

“Make sure someone looks after him.”

“I will.”

“I’m glad it was you, Tabitha.”

Three quick shots into her back, clustered near her heart. She stumbled forward and fell into the water. A bolt of lightning arced across the sky and the rain began to pick up. I still needed to get Mr. Whiskers from Lorelai’s apartment.

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