Fragment of a mystery novel

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Melody In Black

Chapter 1

I sit alone in the shadows. A table reserved for one, where the light is subdued and the music insistent, obscuring my business without meddling with it. A waitress, young and sleek, slides by every so often, looking over but never approaching unless I beckon. I sit with my back to the wall, my glass off to one side, not far from my right hand, but not so close as to deliberately invite a sip of the 30 year old Speyside single malt Scotch that patiently waits within it.

Tonight, a jazz quartet plays hot and fast, the sax and piano soaring and dipping like roller coaster cars on juice, gliding along the hard steel rails laid down by the bass guitar, and fuelled by the drum's dark, insistent rhythm. Bar None is the place for jazz tonight. Jazz and booze, and possibly other things, if you know the right people. And, I am "the right people". I don't run this bar; I pay a Manager and a Bartender to handle that for me.

The quartet is popular enough in their own right to pull in the customers, and they drew in enough to fill the place to capacity, with a line around the block. I didn't see her come in, but I did see her leave. A long, cool, brunette, with curves in all the places there should be curves, wearing a black dress tailored to accentuate without revealing, politely pushing her way toward the door. Black elbow-length gloves, black clutch, black pumps, and black silk stockings made up the ensemble; a soft, low, laid-back Melody in Black, swaying in 4/4 time.

Big John tells me that she sat for about an hour, nursed a Rye&Dry and watched the clock and the door, and not the band. I trust Big John; along with the usual physical attributes, a bouncer has got to have an eye for detail, and a nose for trouble, and Big John was the best at moving trouble out of the bar before it got to be trouble.

The band was wrapping up a long Coltrane tribute when Big John politely intruded into my space. Pointing out the woman, he explained that he smelled a problem, and with the crowd in the room, wanted to head it off quickly. Just as he started to explain the situation, she rose from her seat, dropped two bills on the table, glanced around the room, and quietly headed for the door. Big John's instincts are seldom wrong, but she didn't look like the sort of trouble that he usually worries about. And that got me interested.

Bar None is my hobby, my distraction and my relaxation. But it's not my line of work. In other days, they would have called me "gumshoe", but now they are a lot more polite. My clients either don't know or don't care about my hobby; they only know that my office is the back table in a small jazz club off the waterfront.

The side door let me out into the alley. Trash bins and crates obscured my view of the street, but with a couple of steps I caught a glimpse of the woman as she looked around and got her bearings. "Gumshoe" is what I do; you usually can't hear me coming unless I want you to. It only took a moment to get to the street, and fade into the crowd behind her. She wasn't walking fast; instead, she seemed to be looking over the people in the line leading up to the front door. Searching for someone, I guessed; someone who should have been at the bar an hour ago.

An attractive woman, dressed as she was, should not be out, unescorted, in my neighbourhood, at night. The early autumn darkness was cool and damp, with a hint of the dense fog that would soon creep in with the rising tide. She wasn't dressed for a long walk in the cool of the night; her ride had to be close, or at least, expected.

I drifted along in the crowd, about thirty meters behind her; close enough to keep an eye on her, but far enough away to stay invisible. Ahead, well past the tail end of the block-long line of night revellers, a black Mercedes S-600 sedan growled and purred, and casually rolled away from the curb. Two young toughs, clad in worn leather and denim, detached themselves from the thinning crowd ahead of me, and thrust their way toward the woman from behind. With headlights dimmed and plates obscured, the Mercedes rolled forward, and reached the woman just as the two thugs approached. I picked up my pace; I could hear an indistinct exchange of low, angry words over the murmur of the crowd, and see the troubled look of quiet desperation on her face.

The car door eased open, and a large, well decorated hand gestured decisively. Crowded to the door by the toughs, she bent down and reluctantly stepped into the darkness within. The door thunked closed, and the sedan deftly pulled into traffic as the thugs melted back into the crowd. I arrived at the curb too late; the sedan, with it's reluctant passenger, had vanished into the traffic and the toughs were now lost in the darkness of the night. Big John had been right; the woman was trouble, or at least in trouble. But, she was gone, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Turning towards the club, I looked down at the curb where the car had stopped. Stygian as the night was, I still recognized the small, glossy black clutch lying otherwise unnoticed in the gutter; it's shoulder strap, like a jungle vine, binding it tightly closed. Reaching down as if to tie my shoe, I casually scooped up the purse and slid it in my coat pocket. Perhaps there was something I could do about the Melody in Black, after all.