12:35 AM. She took a long drag from her cigarette, Sinatra’s smooth timbre crooning about love in the background, as thunder rumbled heartily outside, accompanied by jagged flashes of sharp lightning that streaked the rainy midnight skies.
Sitting alone on a tall creaky barstool and leaning by the countertop almost choreographically, cigarette held quaintly on one hand and poised with a radiating air of regality, the intriguing charm and the allure of the mysterious woman had an effect that made heads turn, eyes pop, and hearts beat out of their chambers. She had a stunning slim figure, the short black silk dress that she wore flattering her form breathtakingly, fabric glistening with water droplets that shimmered under the low sodium lights. Her usually cascading honey-blonde hair, now pulled back in a tight bun, dripped water onto the dirty black-and-white checkered linoleum floor; the occasional stray strands she blew away from her porcelain-smooth face. Her delicate hands were quaint and slender, her glinting sharp nails painted a perfect cherry-red. Her flawless lissome legs were crossed quite exquisitely, bright five-inch scarlet stilettos almost—but not quite—touching the floor.
With smoky grey eyelids, thin streaks of perfectly applied eyeliner that ended in a slight curl, and pencilled eyebrows arched ever so slightly in a manner of allusion, she observed with drooped caramel-coloured eyes, scanning heedlessly in a state of curious ennui, her sophisticatedly jaded gaze passing all throughout the small room, before returning to pay attention only to her cigarette and ignoring the simmering brewed coffee that sat on the marble countertop, waiting patiently in front of her.
The old dingy 24-hour diner, as the woman noted, was virtually empty, some worn-down plush red chairs and neon decorated vinyl booths that have already lost their colour occupied by a small motley crew of shady figures, nocturnal regulars, and one or two lost souls that got caught in the unpleasant weather and found no other roof to huddle under, simply waiting for the rain to pass. A green and yellow broken fluorescent sign flickered tepidly by the glass door, inviting everyone that might pass by the diner that the said establishment was “_PEN”.
The barkeep, a hairy overweight man in his late 50’s, with thin wispy hair and several balding spots, a gruff military demeanour, and a permanently stained white apron, was sitting hunched in a dimmer corner of the place, scratching his liver spots while absentmindedly flicking through a day-old newspaper. Occasionally, he would also chance to shoot the mysterious woman quick furtive glances, then he would resound a guttural harrumph from the back of his gravelly throat and resume turning the pages, as if she wouldn’t have noticed.
She merely disregarded the barkeep’s lewd pervading eyes, very much accustomed to the uncalled-for attention, and continued occupying herself with her cigarette, taking a prolonged drag, breathing in the fumes deeply, and, upon exhaling, blowing plumes of smoke out of her puckered ruby lips, the grey tendrils curling up and creating intricate abstract patterns before dissipating into thin air. She peered at them with daydream-gloss eyes, as if lost in a train of thoughts.
“Got caught in the rain, dintcha, hun?” A voice suddenly interrupted her convoluted reverie, a silky baritone voice, almost purring and sounding ever so close to her right ear. Alarmingly close.
Startled by the intrusion, she snapped out of her slight trance and swiveled her head towards the distraction, gossamer flaxen tresses fanning softly with loose strands of hair, chin tilting up haughtily in slow motion, welcoming the intruder with her finest chatoyant glare. What greeted her sight was a lanky and weather-beaten man with a comical wolfish grin, possibly in his mid-40’s, donning a grey flannel suit that was even more so drenched than she.
Strange, she thought warily. This man snuck up on me. She hadn’t noticed that he positioned himself next to her. Matter of fact, she didn’t even hear the rusty wind chime by the door tinkle to signify his entrance. She shook her head infinitesimally to clear her mind, and glanced at the man unsurely. He looked back at her with one brow raised and a half smile, as if expecting an answer.
“You did, dintcha? Caught in the rain, I mean?” He repeated.
“And so were you, my dear gentleman.” She pointedly replied, speaking for the first time since she entered that diner, her voice husky and sweet, like soft cream dissolving in hot coffee.
He simply laughed heartily, either failing to catch, or choosing not to notice, her indignant tone. “That obvious, huh?”
Setting his wet trilby hat on the countertop, the man ran a rough hand through his slicked-back salt-and-pepper hair, drops of water mixed with greasy hair product falling from the tips, and shook himself off like a newly-bathed dog. With that, he sat next to the woman, the barstool making a groan of protest under his heavy weight, and began telling a story that frankly, no one asked to hear.
“Yeah, we got some real nasty weather outside. Been livin’ round these parts for what, a year now?, and I haven’t this dammed town pour down like this in ages. And I was just coming home from business. Usually don’t stay out this long, god knows how terrible overtime can get, but that damn Andriacchi, ballsy as ever, took long strides that w’aint even in the contract, making it take far too long to seal the deal. Had to wait the entire thing out, nearly whacked Andre, as we called him in the office, several times, but he thank his God I didn’t, and by luck of all bad lucks, damn rain had caught me before I could even attempt to catch a bus.”
The woman smiled politely at his lengthy narration but said nothing in reply, looking down and pretending to be engrossed in her cherry-red nails.
But despite her blatantly-obvious disinterest to carry on the conversation, the man still persisted. “And how about you, my dear lady? What were you doing before this raging storm came to claim the land?”
The woman sighed inwardly. This man is becoming a bit too nosy for comfort, she thought. But she didn’t wish to come off as rude, so she decided to play along.
“Oh, I was waiting for someone. Nothing much in need of attention.” She replied, waving her hand with the cigar airily, fingers passing through silver smoke, her sultry voice slightly accentuated now. “My, I don’t have to tell the whole thing, do I?” She asked, placing a hand softly on her bosom and feigning slight horror at the discourse.
The man laughed his booming laugh once more, clearly amused with her little playact. “Not if you don’t want to, of course.”
The barkeep, who had been sneakily eavesdropping in their near one-sided conversation for a while now, set down his dogeared newspaper and decided to intervene. He set a meaty hand down forcefully on the countertop, rattling the cups and coasters placed on top of it, and brashly interrupted their chat. “Ey, look ‘ere man. Ye come ‘ere lookin’ fer pur’ty ladies te bother er ye gon’ order sometin’? If ya ain’t, then imma ‘ave ‘te kick ye out. I needa make ‘e livin’ here, an’ not simpl’y serve ‘es people’s glor’fied ‘mbrellas.”
The man raised his hands up in a sign of good faith and apologised in surrender. “Oh, I’m so sorry, my good man. I meant no harm, after all. I suppose I’ll have a cup of Joe, make that black. And nothing else at the moment, thanks very much.”
The disgruntled barkeep grumbled an undecipherable snarky retort in annoyance, mumbling profanities all the while, but grabbed a dusty chipped cup off the shelf and poured man some stale coffee anyways. Taking a brown-tinted towel that was hanging limply from his hulking shoulder, he started wiping the puddles of water off the countertop, very much tempted to knock off the man’s sodding hat onto the floor in the process, but he didn’t.
After pausing shortly to take a careful sip at the scalding black liquid, the man piped up once again, restarting his and the woman’s hanging small talk. “So…who’s this guy you’re waiting for? Someone special?” He smirked cheekily, as if thinking of insalubrious entendres, and teasingly suggested with a playful glint in his cold sapphire eyes, “Ah, your lover, perhaps?”
The woman nearly choked on the cigarette smoke at his brash rhetoric, but she managed to return to her insouciant composure. Exhaling trails of steam, she scornfully shook her head, perhaps a little too defensive in her denial, and blots of water flicked from her hair and dotted the recently-wiped countertop. The barkeep snorted disdainfully at this and roughly wiped off the quivering drams with a flick of the wrist, making his action prominent and loud and accompanied by more cussing under the breath and obnoxious muttering.
The woman ignored the irked barkeep and finally replied, “Oh no, no. Heavens, no. Nothing of that sort, thanks very much. Just an old relative who came to town, and I simply wanted to say hi. He wasn’t all too pleased with the prospect of seeing me though, and after a bit of bickering between us about petty things, we got into some exaggerated quarrel and a disagreement, and he hurried away to god knows where, leaving me to catch pneumonia in the rain.”
She said those last words lightly in jest, yet still with noticeable spite and suggestive bitter undertones between her gritted teeth.
″Bindle stiff didn’t even give you a ride home. Pigheaded uncultured prick.” The man only replied, his tone surprisingly dark now, his reddened hands slowly clenching tightly, the initial cheery ebullience in his personality gone and replaced with a furious seething vendetta. “What gives him the nerve to be abandoning such a beautiful lady such as you to get caught in such a harsh rain? If I ever see that guy’s face here, hell, he better run for his life ‘fore I go give him a good taste of this.” And he punctuated his sentence with a strained fist slammed loudly on the counter.
The plangent bang of his terse hand, accompanied by the clangorous rattling of their disturbed coffee cups, rang clear and sharp throughout the small space of the diner, throwing the midnight’s peace off its momentum, making everyone stop with their static chatter and grow suddenly quiet.
“Oi! Watch ‘de mahog’ny!” The barkeep scowled, waving the besmirched towel at the man threateningly. “Unless ye plan ‘te pay fer it, dun’ break it, ye snot-faced bast’erd.″ Some off-put onlookers glared at the man disdainfully and huffed rather condescendingly before going back to their meals and drinks.
The woman snuffed out her cigarette, faint traces of ashes adhering to her exquisite fingertips, and stared at the angry man almost frightfully. “Oh, dear me. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m quite fine, really.” She said softly, her sultry voice dropping an octave, barely above an audible whisper.
The sound of her hushed tone immediately relaxed the man’s rage and pounding heart, and his sudden burst of anger died down. Removing his agitated fist from the countertop, he shot a sincere apologetic glance at the glaring barkeep, who was wiping some crystal glasses and muttering spitefully about the man (“Bad enuf’ ye’ swagger ‘ere an’ only order coffe’, naw, but ye gotta break sumthin’ too…”), before turning to look at the woman.
″I guess I should explain.″ The man said in an equally quiet voice. He sighed heavily, cleared his throat, and began to relay another tale again. And this time around, she decided to listen.
“I didn’t mean to—I, um, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost control. It’s just, my wife, she, uh, she recently…um, how’d you say this politely…right, she just recently passed away. And I was a wild man back then, I’d left her alone until the dawn breaks, but she’d keep waiting for me, waiting while I went on drinkin’ and having the time of my life with my buddies and messing around with chicks and all that. She was persistent, Katherine was. Waiting, waiting outside, peerin’ and lookin’ and starin’ out the windows hopefully to see me return, until one day, well, hah, one day, she were home alone, and some damn burglars burst in. Those thieving sons of bitches took everything. Even her life. And the bastards didn’t even leave her untouched.”
The man swallowed hard at the final word, his steady booming voice finally cracking and choking him up. The dark implications quickly dawned on the woman, the staggering impact of his story rendering her dumbfounded for once. He merely looked down at his coffee in shame, trying to hide his pained tears unsuccessfully, as she stared at him in surprise upon the revelation, her scarlet mouth slightly gaped, her almond-shaped eyes now rounder than an orange.
“And at the very end of it all, I was the one that was left waitin’.” He scoffed hollowly, sneering at his own morbid joke. “Karma, huh.”
“But it wasn’t…it wasn’t your fault.” The shocked woman tried vainly to console him, but he only buried his etched stone face deeper in the shadows and shook his head stubbornly, refusing to look at the woman’s glistening umber eyes.
“No. No matter how hard you try’n to spin it, it’s still all my fault, miss. I left her alone. I let her die. I let her wait forever. I let her be desecrated and killed by some filthy ten-cent thieves.”
The woman fell silent as he recovered from his despair and slowly straightened up, looking outside the windows, into the clashing darkness and water of the distant fallen night, remorseful regret replaced with newfound determination. “And now I swore to myself that I would protect any lady that I could, no matter what it takes. And I ain’t leaving no one waitin’ anymore.”
The woman finally managed to purse her hanging mouth closed, and she bit on her lower lip as she gazed at him with pitying yet understanding eyes. “That’s…tragic. It’s not much, but I’m very touched. Really, I am. I’m very sorry for your loss.” She didn’t know what quite to do, so she reached out a hesitant porcelain hand and patted his back comfortingly.
“I’m afraid to say though, that you can’t protect me anymore. It’s quite a bit too late for that, now. And you can’t be everyone’s avenging angel, you know. But that’s okay. You’re a noble man with a noble cause, that’s for sure.” She sincerely assured, then paused to consider. “If not coming off as a little nosy at times, that is.″
The man burst into a warm chuckle at her little chide, and the woman, glad to have lightened his spirits, smiled brightly in return, her ruby lips splitting open, showing him her perfect row of gleaming white teeth, smoky eyelined lids softly winking in assurance.
With that, the high-strung tension that initially enveloped the atmosphere was instantly broken, the casual background ambiance of the diner quickly returning again, with the pattering rain, amicably chattering costumers, and the hissing sizzle of the greasy grill accompanied by the starting drumbeats of Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon.
“Oh, I absolutely adore this song.” The woman gushed sultrily in awe, as she closed her eyes and started humming and swaying her head along to the jazzy tune, her comely countenance wistful as she listened intently, lost in the haze of the blaring trumpet notes.
The man smirked in affirmation. “I agree. Lemme tell you something, this Frank guy, everyone thought he wasn’t gonna be nothing, but now he definitely got his steppin’ stones on stardom out there. And he deserves it too, oh yes. Ol’ blue eyes’ voice is simply absolutely great, and what’s even better is that all the ladies love him.″ He stopped his tirade momentarily, derailed by an amusing thought. ″Y’know, tell you what, I could actually sing too.”
The woman only looked at him with coalescing disbelief and challenging eyes, a hint of a smile playing on her carmine lips. Without a moment’s hesitation, the man stood up and cleared his throat grandiosely to get the small crowd’s attention. Heads turned and watched as modulated his voice in faux preparation, placed his soaked trilby hat back on his head and tipped it angularly for an added jaunt and flair, and he gently took her elegant hands in his, suave as he gazed at her meaningfully and winked. The flustered woman couldn’t help but blush, her usually pale cheeks now a pleasant shade of tickled pink.
And with that buildup, the man opened his mouth and finally began to sing along.
“Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars…let me see what spring is like, on Jupiter and Mars…in other words, hold my hand…in other words, baby, kiss me…”
And indeed the man sang. Horribly off-key. Trying absurdly hard to imitate Sinatra’s sonorous smooth melodies, but utterly failing to do so, and instead ending up wailing like an insufferable beached whale, and once again causing a slight disturbance among the diner, not for the first and the last time in that rainy night.
The quick-tempered barkeep, vexingly exasperated and finally done in with the man’s bamboozling antics, heaved the dirty towel directly at the man’s face and, shaking a threatening meaty fist, hissed indignantly at him to “Pipe ‘de ‘ell down, will ya?!”. Several straying onlookers laughed under their breaths at the comical scene, welcome at the break from monotony, and more amused than annoyed.
The woman could only giggle at the man’s poor attempts to sing, and she laughed even harder at his slapstick attempts at removing the disgusting towel from his face. She pulled her hand away from his grasp to nudge him scoldingly as he stumbled backwards and nearly tripped, still partially blinded by the foul-smelling cloth.
“It was absolutely perfect until you opened your mouth. How could you do such a terrible thing to such a good song?” She chastised playfully, tutting disappointedly and wagging one painted finger at the man.
He joined in with her mirth and let out a small cheer as he finally managed to remove the antagonising towel from his visage, the woman clapping jestingly at his mini success. He tossed it away onto the counter, accepted her offer of a crumpled tissue, and wiped his face thoroughly with it, before returning to his seat and finally settling down. “Hey, I did say I could sing. I didn’t say could sing great.” He quipped.
With nothing else left to say, and lulled by the song’s instrumental interlude, they sat taciturn for several minutes, letting the song continue to play in peace, her eyes closed in contemplation and tapping her long cherry nails on the counter, him whistling along to the tune merrily as he drained his coffee cup to the very last drop and asked for a refill from the disgruntled barkeep. Finally, the woman decided to break the comfortable silence, and grazed the man on the shoulder.
“Here. Keep this for me, would you?” She requested, removing a simple golden ring from her hand and dropping it on his palm. “It was my grandma’s. I inherited it from her, and I was very dear with her, so this quite special to me. But well…call me absolutely mad for giving it away so easily, and to a complete stranger too, but somehow…I just really want you to have it.”
The man gaped blankly at the ring flashing back at him on his palm, unable to digest the news. “But…I can’t…I can’t accept this. What—what’s it for?” He blanched, trying to return the ring to her. She simply waved away his futile endeavour and took his calloused hand with the ring, balling it into a tight fist and patting it in finality.
“Oh no, don’t worry too much about it. I have no more use for this ring, honestly. And it’s highly possible that we never cross paths again, so I give to you as a present, as a memento, from the girl that you saved, to my avenging angel.” She said with a curious wink of her mocha eye. “Just trust me on this one, okay?”
Before the confused man could muster out a reply of thanks, the door of the diner suddenly opened with a prominent tinkling sound, interrupting their conversation.
Both heads turned to look as a stern-looking elderly man wearing a brown suit stepped in, tossing his soaked tweed jacket on the coat rack carelessly and placing his wet umbrella by the side of the doorway. His brown oak walking cane, lined with a streak of affluent gold at the side, made a rough tap-tap-tap sound as he walked briskly, impatiently making his way towards a nearby formica table, as if even the tiniest milliseconds of time was something he did not wish to waste.
But as soon as the old man spotted the woman staring at him very intently, he immediately stopped walking, his black beady eyes widening and threatening to pop out of their sockets, his wrinkled face turning deathly white, his austere personality morphing and revealing his vulnerability, as if he had seen a ghost.
The man noticed his startling expression in contrast the woman’s equally-terrified one, and his breath hitched at his windpipe at the realisation. He cleared his throat quietly, as if wishing to dislodge the growing hard lump in his throat, and leaned in closer to the riveted woman.
“…Is that him? The man who stood you up?” He asked cautiously, his voice low and urgent. The woman could only nod stiffly in reply, skin quivering faintly as her worried eyes were still locked upon the old man’s glare.
The old man’s cane made a startling clattering noise as it fell on the floor, resonating hollowly and juddering every patron’s soul. This sound seemed to give the old man a start, as he mustered up enough courage—or foolishness—to make use of his voice. “You…! But-but how could this possibly be—?!” The old man stuttered out. He pointed an accusing tremulous finger at the woman. “You’re supposed to be dead!”
The barkeep, whose mind was on automatic and had been rather engrossed in carrying on with his torpid tasks, finally took notice of the disturbance and stopped rearranging the newly-washed plates. He glowered in irritation at the old man. “Wossa big idea’r, eh?!” He snapped angrily. “Get de’ ‘ell outta ‘ere an’ bother some’un else, ya nasty geezer!”
Ignoring the frazzled barkeep’s immediate demands, the old man hastily reached for his back pocket, pulled out a .45 calibre gun, and pointed it directly towards the woman, trembling and continuously babbling some undecipherable chants, occasionally mumbling a more coherent death threat like “Dead!!! The dead should stay dead…” in a fit of insanity.
The usually-tough barkeep stepped back in alarming surprise at the procurement of the weapon, accidentally dropping a newly-washed plate, which shattered loudly on the linoleum floor.
The sound jolted the entire diner into action. Commotion and panic immediately arose. A morbidly obese woman wearing fake jewelry pearls clutched her purse and shrieked in fear. A worn-looking businessman snatched his briefcase from the floor and held it defensively. Someone, in their haste to try escaping from the madman, accidentally bumped into the still-playing jukebox, ceasing Sinatra’s croons at “Fill my heart with—”.
As the delirious shivering old man cocked the gun and fumbled with one unsteady hand to clutch the trigger, something in the man’s mind instantly snapped, and he stood up and fearlessly faced the armed old man with his chest puffed out, filled with a mélange of sheer bravado and unadulterated rage.
“Dead?! I’ll show you dead, you disgusting old creep!” He yelled out boldly, advancing aggressively towards the old man. With a strength he didn’t know he possessed, the man harshly pushed the gun’s muzzle away from his face, which, fortunately, was quite easy enough, for the old man was so severely shaken that he had trouble gripping it tightly. The man then pulled for the gun and yanked it out of the old man’s hands, dropped it cautiously on the floor, and kicked it away. He grabbed the insensible old man by his collar forcefully, lifted him a couple inches off the ground with one hand, and with a final burst of power, knocked him down to the ground with one swift powerful punch straight to the jaw using the other.
The old man lay there unconscious, and didn’t stir for quite some time.
The man, rubbing his sore knuckles gingerly, turned away from the knocked-out fellow and saw that the woman was already gone. Hearing the backdoor slam open, he impulsively grabbed at his pocket and threw a couple dimes at the countertop, grabbed for his still heavily-soaked tan trenchcoat—which made the coat rack fall loudly and spill its contents, and ran towards the sound to find her, ignoring the other fleeing customers’ frantic discordant shouts and pushing past the shocked barkeep, who was reaching with a visible shaky hand for the telephone to call the police.
His boiling blood was rushing wildly, his panicked heart was pounding deafeningly in his ears, his coursing adrenaline working its way to his body and legs as he ran against the frigid hurricane winds and the stinging blades of the raindrops, resolutely fighting against the chasm of the hysterical storm. He wanted to shout out to her, to call out her name, but much to his deep chagrin, he realised that he never asked her for it, nor was it given to him.
“Where are you?!” He bellowed in a fit of desperation, rain blurring and impairing his vision and seeing only occasional flashes and glimpses of the woman’s black dress, or her blonde hair, or her red shoes, teasing him, tossing him, taunting him to deliria, as he twisted left and right, darted down the abandoned streets, and crossed through dirty suspicious alleyways relentlessly.
After what seemed like hours of chasing mere spectres and thin air, the man finally came to a literal screeching stop, nearly slamming headfirst upon a tall graffiti-infested wall, and found himself standing in front of a dead end, quite literally. Mottled hairy rats scuttled about the blind alley harriedly, bits of trash and dust blew everywhere as they were caught in precipitous winds and torrents of flooding water alike, and a conglomeration of filthy skittering cockroaches were congregating by a soggy pizza box.
Panting, frustrated, drenched, worn-out, and severely tired, the man can only groan disappointedly in defeat, carelessly leaning his hand against the grimy wall to catch his breath and rest. But in doing so, he accidentally kicked aside a pile of waterlogged newspapers, and something that was just a little harder than paper.
Looking down at his ruined muddy pennyloafers, he saw shreds of torn paper, an empty plastic bag from a local grocery store…and a withering slender hand with a pale circular ring mark on one finger, long nails painted a perfect cherry-red, and fingers clutching a snuffed-out cigarette, sticking gracelessly out of yesterday’s headlines.
He threw his head back and screamed in consternation. The rats squealed. The cockroaches scattered. Thunder boomed angrily overhead. Shrill police sirens abruptly pierced through the soft pattering of the dripping water, as the dying rain slowly came to a tranquil stop, leaving only the echoing howls of both man and shearing wind.
And indeed, the dead woman who had been found under day-old headlines had become the new headline for the newspapers the very next day. WOMAN FOUND MURDERED IN AN ALLEYWAY, they all announced in bold and bright red uppercase letters, baiting for curious attention from the rushing passersby, tabloids and reliable sources alike propped up on newsstands and magazine stalls on every busy street that morning.
Supplying the specifics, the tawdry detail for detail articles mentioned that the victim’s name was Christine Emica Evans, 30 years old, an out-of-work actress from lower downtown. She was brutally raped before being finally murdered by her own uncle from her father’s side, Thomas Elcott. Elcott, 67 years old, was a ruthless and renowned businessman, infamous around the city and, according to several unaccounted rumours, a suspected honorary member of the Mafia. The dry monotone narration included snippets of quotes from the police, including one that stated the assumed reason for the crime was that Christine’s deceased father supposedly owed Thomas a huge sum of debt and she was not able to pay it under the given deadline, and they failed to talk it out and settle on a peaceful negotiation, instead getting on each others’ nerves and having a fallout.
Forensics estimated that she had been dead for about five hours before she was found. She was instantly killed by a bullet that entered her frontal cranium, passed through her brain, and exited the back of her head, at about 11:30 PM on Sunday. The suspect was found also dead inside Good Joe’s Diner in 6th Avenue, leaning against a wall, with a broken jaw, a .45 gun clutched limply in his left hand, and a bullet in his head. Several reliable witnesses attested that it was suicide, carried out by Thomas in a fit of madness after rousing into consciousness, only several moments after the anonymous man who broke his jaw fled from the scene.
Detectives interviewed all the scant customers and the shaken barkeep thoroughly. The barkeep, who was brought in for further questioning, recalled an unknown grey-suited man coming inside for some coffee, slamming his fist on his “preshu’s mahog’ny an’ marble count’er”, and singing rather horribly. He also gave the whole story of the incident, starting with Thomas entering the premises, pulling out a gun, the anonymous man punching Thomas in the face, Thomas falling unconscious, and the man paying for his drink before running away. He also conjured up some other distorted hazy recollections of “sumthin’ ’bout ‘e cigarette ‘er ‘e black dress, I t’ink, I ain’t sher”, and nothing more.
6:00 AM. A lone unnoticed figure was lingering around the recently-discovered crime scene, hunched behind a corner, a burning cigarette dangling loosely from the side of his cracked lips, peeking out by the side of the wall occasionally.
He silently watched and smoked from afar as the police worked at the cul-de-sac, taking notes, searching for further evidence, poking and prodding and taking photos of Christine’s cold lifeless body before carrying her away in a gurney unceremoniously. After several minutes of staring blankly, he finally managed to tear his eyes away from the grotesque scene, and, blowing smoke from out his nostrils, gazed down melancholically at the muddy tarnished golden ring that he was clutching in his hand.
Words failed to find themselves in his tongue, and he stood there silently, contemplating, assessing the ring with utmost concentration like a pawnbroker, until he managed to conjure up what he thought was a decent farewell.
“Well, I may not have saved your life…but I sure damn well avenged you. I reckon that’s enough.”
“Don’t you come waitin’ for me now.” He said, and with those final parting words, he dropped the cigarette and stepped on it, stuffed the ring carefully into his trenchcoat pocket, tipped back his trilby hat ever so slightly, and slowly walked onto the taut horizon’s languidly rising sunlight, peeking out from under the gloom, the faint intrusive police lights dissipating into the cool wind, a faint giggling voice—husky and sweet like soft cream dissolving in hot coffee—echoing at the back of his mind, and his quiet voice mournfully whistling out the last coda of Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon.
“In other words, please be true—In other words…I love you.”