Face Cards Serial
(shot in glorious black and white)
Ice cream was certainly out of the question. Jack cast his glance up and down the street and determined neither Victoria nor himself had been followed. How she had been able to leave the book store without Dick Haynes and his merry men following her was difficult to fathom. Then again, Jack trusted no one. He barely trusted Margaret, but that was a story that went back years. When they had first met, she had been a murder suspect.
Victoria the book store assistant manager was a different sort of suspect. Jack found himself wanting to believe as she went on about her husband being in danger while leaving the details dangling. The emotional punctuation of her tears made her tale more plausible, but Jack still held back, regardless of the way she was holding onto him and the warmth her body was passing on to his. According to the story, her husband had been kidnapped and was being held to force her to do unpleasant and illegal things. She believed Jack to be a cop who had been brought in to force her to comply with the kidnappers' wishes. She went on for some time about her concerns until Jack finally pulled her off his shoulder and looked her in the eye.
"I'm not a cop.
Go back to the book store now.
Meet me at the bridge later at the time you said on the telephone.
Let them follow you.
It will be okay."
Victoria walked away, still in tears, and Jack walked in the other direction after he was sure she was on her way. He found a public telephone, deposited a dime and dialed the number Hans Berger had left him. After four rings, Hans answered the call.
"Mr. Berger, this is Jack Sharper.
I wanted to give you an update."
"Yes, Mr. Sharper, what have you discovered?"
Berger's voice sounded nervous, much as it had early on in their initial meeting. It was the kind of nervousness generally eminated from those who were afraid of the news they might hear.
"Look, Berger, your wife has been at the book store all afternoon.
There have been several men in to see her, but she left to meet one about a half hour ago.
They went to an apartment but weren't there long."
"I see. Where did they go after that?"
"She went back to the book store and he made a phone call."
"Look, Sharper, I can't talk about this now.
I'll come to your office at ten o'clock tonight."
Jack hung up the phone and lit another cigarette. Rick's Bar was just two blocks away and it was a favored hang out for Lorca the Weasel. He suspected there was a possibility there might be a job for Lorca. Of course, that job might entail getting the money cut off from the man who was paying him at the moment.
"I couldn't go back. I just couldn't."
The return of Victoria was not in the deck of cards that made up the expectations Jack had for the afternoon. He had fully anticipated that she would return to work and meet with him later. He believed she would wait until prying eyes could watch them and overhear their conversation. This was a twist of fate that changed the complexion of the afternoon.
"What is your husband's name?"
Victoria gave Jack just enough time to ask the question before she threw her arms around him and began sobbing once more. Either her concern for her life and that of her husband was real or someone had determined that Jack's weakness for damsels in distress would be his ultimate undoing. Jack let her hold on, but then gently tilted her head back and kissed her. Then he asked the question again. He had to know.
"Just kiss me, please. That doesn't matter to me right now."
Jack kissed her again and then pulled himself apart from her. He looked up and down the street for a cab to hail and then gave up. At his insistence
, she followed him to Rick's Bar.
They took a table in the back of the bar and waited on the waitress while Jack scanned the patrons. As expected, Lorca was at the bar, trying to convince the bartender of the value of one of his schemes. What was not expected was the entrance of Dick Haynes and his two flankers no more than five minutes after Jack and Victoria had sat down. Once she saw them, Victoria tried to get up and run, but Jack grabbed her arm and forced her to stay in her seat.
"What do the cops have on you?"
Answers would not come easily, and Jack was used to that. He did not like having to strong arm this beautiful woman, but this case was turning out to be much more than he bargained for. A simple investigation of marital infidelity would have been a nice hors d'oeuvre and put a little coin in Jack's bank account. This was the kind of case where people got shot in the back. Jack was at the point in his life where he needed feathers in his cap, not more situations where the feathers were being shot out of his cap.
"I've been doing very bad things to help my husband and they have been following me and threatening me. I can't stop or they'll kill Hans. I can't keep doing it or they will arrest me. I don't know what to do."
"Hans Berger is your husband?"
Victoria's look was enough to convince Jack the answer was "yes." It was something he had seriously begun to doubt, considering the fact that Hans Berger was driving a Packard and hiring private investigators and Victoria believed he was being held hostage. The question that remained was whether Hans Berger was really Hans Berger. Lorca the Weasel chose that moment to notice Jack and come over to the table.
"Lorca, this is Victoria Berger, Hans Berger's wife."
Lorca insisted that Jack follow him to another corner of the bar. Neither of their eyes ever left the lovely face of Victoria Berger, but both needed to discuss the very nature of her presence.
"Jack, you are in danger.
Very big danger.
Hans Berger would slit your throat for less.
Much less, my friend."
"She thinks he's been kidnapped."
"Only the devil would kidnap Berger, Jack.
He is not an easy man.
Not easy at all."
"Would you consider Demetrius Povanko to be the devil, Lorca?"
Lorca jiggled his glass to indicate that it was empty. As usual, he approached Jack when he was in need to a refill that was not in his budget. Jack went with him to the bar and bought a round of drinks for Victoria, Lorca and himself. Then he insisted that Lorca follow him back to the table.
"Victoria, this is Lorca.
He is going to find out where your husband is."
Next: Part Six: King of Diamonds
Back to the Beginning: Jack of Diamonds
Back to Part Two: Queen of Clubs
Back to Part Three: Jack of Spades
Back to Part Four: King of Hearts