Face Cards Serial
(shot in glorious black and white)
St. Angelo's was the kind of place where men of little means and women of ill repute drank coffee and ate breakfast. The food was good and the coffee was always hot, but its reputation kept more affluent and upstanding citizens away. That was fine with Jack Sharper. He never liked rubbing elbows with bluebloods and captains of industry unless he was preparing to take them down. There were certainly those amongst his fair city's population who held a grudge against Jack. He had sent their friends and family up the river. During his law enforcement career, Jack had never let money or influence dictate who he clamped the handcuffs on. In all honesty, he preferred to arrest those arrogant enough to think their money or social standing would get them favorable treatment from the law.
"Already drinking coffee, Jack? Tie on a real bender last night or hitting the bottle early again?"
Shirley was the motherly type who treated all her customers like wayward children. It was probably the only way she could handle the job. The kind of people she served coffee and pancakes to were the same kind that lurked in alleyways and watched her walk home to her one room apartment on East Vine Street. She reserved judgement, but always spoke her mind, reminding each and every patron of St. Angelo's that she knew about their foibles. Shirley had come to the city twenty years ago with hopes of becoming an actress. Jack knew pieces of her story. She had spent a dozen years as a prostitute, lured by the promise of easy money and a shot at the silver screen. Shirley knew about lies and deceit. She made a great inside man.
"You ever been across the street to the book store, Shirley?"
"All the time, baby. Why do you ask?"
Shirley's sarcasm was tinted with a mild dose of truth. She had not completely let go of the young small town girl who came to the big city with hopes and dreams. Now she relegated those fantasies to the world of fiction, ending her evenings by reading tales of romance, fortune and adventure. She just preferred not to let people know that side of her still existed. It was better to wear the veil of cynicism like the majority of her customers. At St. Angelo's, cynicism led to bigger tips. Not that two quarters meant that much more than one quarter in the grand scheme of things, but it made paying her rent much easier.
"You know anything about a doll that works there named Victoria?"
Shirley poured Jack a cup of black coffee and turned towards the grill, where many an egg was frying. She chuckled quietly, flipped several of the eggs, broke two more and placed an order of scrambled eggs on a plate with bacon and toast for another customer. After she served the dish to a man three stools down from Jack, she put her elbows down on the counter and stared into Jack's eyes.
"Black holes to nowhere, Jack. That is what your eyes look like to me. I know who you are talking about and I know she has a jealous husband. He shows up at the book store all the time and argues with her. Once I saw him slap her and he wasn't kind about it."
"So, I guess I shouldn't try to get too friendly with her unless I want trouble."
Shirley muttered something about Victoria the book store assistant manager not being Jack's type and went back to her grill. There were other customers and the lunch crowd was about to make their grand entrance. Whatever Jack was getting at, she wanted clarification within the next handful of minutes. Shirley knew Jack well enough to know he never asked about women because he was interested in romancing them. He only asked when he was on a case and needed her help.
Jack sipped his coffee slowly, turning on his stool so that he could look across the street at the book store. The man who had come to his office and hired him, Hans Berger, did not quite fit the profile of the woman slapping jealous husband. Yet, as Jack thought about it he realized the possibility. As much as Berger appeared to be a shaky and timid man, he did possess a definite obsessive quality. Anyone who would hire a private detective to investigate his wife had to be at least a little paranoid. The shadowy figure Jack saw in the book store window was a different story. She was too beautiful, despite her efforts to hide her beauty, to be as lukewarm as she tried to look. Jack was just going to have to go over to the book store and inquire about books. The only problem with that was that Jack did not read and had no idea what to inquire about.
"I've often seen her carrying home horror novels by T.R. Booker. You could pass for a Booker fan. Most of his readers don't bathe very often."
Jack commented to Shirley that he was impressed with her ability to observe and remember details. This was not an unknown quality of hers. Jack had paid her to help him on a variety of cases, taking advantage of her ability to befriend just about anyone and make them feel comfortable enough to talk openly with her. He wanted to use her on this case, but at the moment he had not decided how. That would come in time.
"Booker's latest novel is called 'Merchants of the Blade' and it just came out last month. Now, pay me for your damned coffee and go do some work for a change."
Defiant as always, Jack pushed his empty cup towards Shirley and requested a refill. She snorted what was essentially a repressed laugh and filled the cup. Then she turned her attentions to the rest of the customers and purposely avoided eye contact with Jack for the remainer of his visit. That was okay with Jack. He had finished this part of his interview with Shirley and he would not lack company for very long. Lorca the Weasel, who had been Jack's favorite snitch during his days on the police force, had found Jack on his radar. Lorca was always after a quick buck and he knew that whenever Jack was on a case there would be opportunity to make some quick coin. The daily newspaper under his left arm as always, Lorca sat down on the stool next to Jack and grinned. Shirley did not even approach him. She knew Lorca never ordered anything unless he could convince someone else to pay for it or for Shirley to give it to him for free. There was little opportunity for either here.
"Any new business, friend?"
"Looks like the Dodgers have got themselves another solid pitcher."
"That's swell, Jack, but you know I maybe might need a situation.
A work type situation.
I know you want to help out so good a friend as me."
"There is a fellow by the name of Hans Berger.
He drives a Packard.
I need you to tail him for me."
Lorca stepped off his stool and took two steps away from Jack. When Jack turned to eye him, Lorca looked far more nervous than normal. His beady eyes were looking around the coffee shop, searching through all the faces for anyone he might recognize.
"I say something you didn't like, Lorca?"
Lorca took hold of Jack's arm and convinced him to step outside the building. He looked up and down the street before leading Jack into an alley and speaking in an almost inaudible whisper.
"Don't you know who Hans Berger is?
They say he used to be in the SS.
Now he works for Demetrius Povanko."
Jack Sharper knew Demetrius Povanko well. He had sent him away on a murder charge years ago. He was supposed to be serving a life sentence, but during an appeal the witnesses had a sudden change of heart and recanted their earlier testimony. Five key witnesses preferring to go to jail for perjury rather than face more dire circumstances. Jack had the funny feeling that he was not getting paid as much as he should. The case was turning into more than an open and shut marital infidelity case. Jack made a mental note to ask Hans Berger for a larger retainer.
Next: Part Three: Jack of Spades
Back: Part One: Jack of Diamonds