The Alley, one of the preferred hangouts for the Hanbara night-life. Top Cat built, owns, and operates the place. On top of that, nearly every illegal operation in the city runs through him at some point or another. Protection rackets, numbers rackets, almost any dirty business you can think of, it’s going on somewhere in the city, and TC’s probably got his fingers in it. Gambling, a specialty.
As I approach the trashcan lid shaped entryway, I see Magilla’s on duty at the door tonight. As I bypass the line he prepares to block the way until he realizes who it is.
“Ranger Smith, how’ya been? Haven’t seen you here in a few months.”
“I’ve been spending my nights at home lately, haven’t been in the mood to go to the clubs. I‘m here for business, not pleasure, tonight. Who‘s working the floor, one of the boys or a wage slave?”
“Benny’s on duty tonight.”
Pleasantries out of the way I made my way into the building to a chorus of protests from those not in the know. Nobodies, we call’em. The ones who thrive in the daylight hours. The know nothings. We work nights to keep this city running smooth, TC‘s gang, the cops, the Phantom, me, even the Anthill Mob, much as I hate to admit it, has a part to play in this balance. Hell, half of the yammering ingrates probably work for TC or the Anthill Mob indirectly through one of their legitimate fronts. Ignorance is bliss.
Despite the name, The Alley really is a nice setup. Not cushy, cushy was never TC’s style. But the color scheme makes everything feel softer. Except for the glass dance floor shining orange, white, yellow, and purple lights through from below. If you knew‘em you could see that the room itself was designed with Benny and Chooch in mind, but that dance floor. That dance floor was TC, with a little bit of Fancy for effect.
On the subject of Fancy, I spotted him before I saw Benny. Chatting up a girl, as always. I decided not to bother him, not that he‘d mind. The guy’s got a silver tongue, worse case scenario my distraction causes him to have to take a different chick home, but if he can help it, Fancy does not sleep alone, and he can always help it.
Finally I saw Benny heading my way. Out of all of TC‘s boys, Benny‘s the guy I like best. His thinking process is a bit slow, but he isn‘t dumb. It’ll take him longer than you to put two and two together, but that‘s only because he did it all the ways you didn‘t. Plus there‘s a certain amount of innocence that hovers around him. Just this feeling that even though he‘s just as much a part of this world as the rest of us, he‘s just as much apart from it as the Nobodies. The best of both worlds you could say, I don know.
“Heya, Ranger Smith!”
“Benny, how’ve things been?”
“Busy, you know how around this time of year we start getting tourist, and the locals who usually stay at home this late start coming out in droves. I don’t know, but I’ve been working Spook and Brain’s floor shifts, TC sent’em outta town the other day for some reason, wouldn’t know why, so I’ve just been…”
“Not tryin’ to be rude, Benny, but I’m here on business.”
“What kind of Business?”
That’s what I mean by slow
“I need to see TC.”
And there‘s the insight I was talking about.
“Yeah, it was a weird one too. The scene was totally clean. Wouldn’t even know it was a murder if the body hadn’t still been there. Which is what bugs me, whoever did it obviously had plenty of time, why leave the body?”
“Maybe they couldn’t carry it.”
“Doubt that’s the case, they obviously had enough help to carry the body with how clean the place was.”
“Oh, well, I’ll let Choo-Choo know you’re comin’ up.”
Most people who come to The Alley think it’s a two floor building with TC‘s offices in the back, misconception. It’s at least four floors, with the third floor being living quarters for his boys, in case the heat was on with either the cops or the Anthill Mob. The entire fourth floor is TC’s. Office, room, kitchen, everything he would need he had on that floor. After all, he ran his empire from The Alley. I suspect there are a few more floors, but I’ve never been past floor four, never needed to.
I waited by the private elevator for Benny to call up to Chooch. I don’t have a key for the elevator, TC’d probably give me one if I asked, but I don’t see a reason to ask. Wouldn’t want to walk in on something I shouldn’t be seeing. I look over at Benny as he gets off the phone and flashes me the thumbs up, meaning Chooch is sending down the elevator. A few seconds later, the doors open and on my way up.
The difference between TC’s operation and the Anthill mob is a matter of policy. Sure, you cross’em, TC’s gang‘d rough you up, and possibly ruin you financially depending on how badly you‘d screwed with‘em. TC could wreck your life if he wanted to, but at least you’d still HAVE your life. The Anthill Mob, on the other hand, doesn’t have the impulse control. And Clyde, their boss, doesn’t have the smarts that TC’s got. Doesn’t know how to play the game, what lines he should and shouldn‘t cross. And the fact that he’s losing turf to his rival has got him edgy and defensive. I can’t work with him, like I can with TC..
The doors open again and Chooch is standing in the hall waiting for me.
“Ranger Smith, long time no see.”
“TC’s waitin’ for you in his office.”
I make my way down to the end of the hall, passing several doors on the way. Besides his office at the very end, I’d been in only one of them, TC’s living room. The guy has style, I’ll say that much, and he keeps the place spotless.
I reach the office door and don’t bother to knock, no need, he already knows I’m coming. I enter, he’s sitting in a large chair feet propped up on his desk, looking like he’d just woken up from a nap.
“Sorry for just dropping in, TC.”
“Don’t worry about it, John. No problem. For you, I always got time for a chat. Hey, uh, I’m sorry… I heard what happened to Melody.”
“Don’t worry about it”
“Heard about what happened at the Phantom‘s place afterwards, too. If you want, I could…”
“I said don’t worry about it. Anyway, I’m here to talk about a murder. Too clean to be just some random botched break in. Any of your informants hear any rumblings from the Anthill mob?
“About a murder? Naw. Secret didn’t mention anything about any plans to off someone. Who was it?”
“Don’t know, didn’t stick around for someone to find an ID. Figured if I didn’t know’im it was just some nobody who crossed the wrong people.”
“Yeah, probably. If it [i]was the mob, it was probably a spur of the moment thing.”
“Looks like I’m going to have to go ask them myself.”
“John, you know I‘m only the second best source of information on what the mob‘s doing, not counting the mob itself. Was what happened at the Phantom‘s really that bad, that you‘d rather deal with the Anthill mob before dealing with him?”
“Look, TC, I you told I didn’t want to talk about…”
“No, John, you told me not to worry about it, I chose to ignore the suggestion. Look, me and you, we got a good business relationship, right? But I figured you considered me a friend like I consider you a friend. Ranger Smith, as your business associate, I can‘t just sit back when I hear you went flying off the handle in Funky Phantom‘s club, because it‘s potentially bad for my business. And, John, as your friend, I can‘t sit back when I hear you‘re so totally out of whack because of the situation that you‘re willing to face down the Anthill mob, who‘d like nothing more than to put a bullet through YOUR head, instead of facing Funky Phantom, who was, if not a friend, a loyal associate of yours for years prior to this whole thing. And who, I‘m sure, would be happy to let bygones be bygones.”
“Thanks for your time, TC, I’ll let myself out.”
“John, before you go to the Anthill mob, go see what Funky and his girls might know.”
“I’ll see you around.”
“Take care of yourself, John. I mean that.”
I blow past Chooch on the way to the elevator, managing to grunt out a goodbye. I wave to Benny on my way through the club, nod to Magilla on my way out the door. It‘s annoying, but TC’s right. Still, I’m not entirely ready to let cooler heads prevail. But I’ll have some time to sleep on it. It was getting early, and whether I went to see the mob or the Phantom, they wouldn’t be open again ‘till late. I’d sleep until the afternoon. Get a good lunch, and then make up my mind.
I miss you Melody
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