A short story in 4 episodes by A.W. Rock
It was 7pm when I dropped into Costas Lounge.
It had been a beautiful autumnal day and I had spent most of it reading in what was called a studio apartment by the estate agent, when I rented it. It was a single loft room in Chinatown divided into two by kitchen units with a shower room where a cupboard should have been. You had to duck at the edges of the room where the roof sloped down, which was a headache.
When Jack saw me he eagerly beckoned me over.
I told him that I was on my way to him anyway, because he was the barman and I wanted a drink.
“I took a call for you today”, he said.
“Yes?” I said.
There was long silence that could have been embarrassing if I hadn’t broken it.
“I wrote it down on a book match.”
“Must have been a long message then.”
While I had a whisky and water he searched the bar finally finding it in his pocket.
Unfolding the battered remains, I said, “It’s only a phone number..”
Another long pause that again I had to break, “No name?.. What time was the call?”
Jack shrugged his shoulders, “Earlier..”, and wandered off to serve another customer, or client as he liked to call them.
I should explain here that Costas’ landline number was my contact point. In that way I could keep at arms length from any potential client, or was it customer?
It also offered me a degree of protection should anyone want to ‘take care’ of me.
I hadn’t got a lot on so curiosity got the better of me and I decided to return the call.
Costas kept his old Bakelite telephone under the bar and since he wasn’t around I pulled it out and dialled.
I heard a continental ringing tone and assumed that the caller must have been abroad. Eventually it was answered.
“Yes”, said a foreign accent.
“You called this number today”, I said.
“I’ve made a lot of calls today… who are you?”
I gave her Costas’ phone number, even though I knew she already had it.
“I’ll meet you tomorrow at midday“, she said.
“In the bar, where you are now.. How will I know you?“, she asked.
“I’ll have a red rose between my teeth.. Don’t worry I’ll recognise you.”
The woman rang off.
I turned up at Costas Lounge an hour early so that I would have the advantage of seeing the woman before she saw me.
A woman I’d never seen before was sitting in the far corner of the bar with her back to the wall. She was dressed in an obviously expensive business suit, trousers not a skirt, and looked like she owned a million dollars. She caught my eye and carried on catching it.
We shook hands, it seemed to be the right thing to do with her, and I said, “You got here before me, and I’m an hour early.”
“What is it the girl-guides say? .. Be prepared”, she said, without smiling.
Her handshake was firm and she looked like she was fresh from a weights workout; athletically muscular but not too big.
“What can I do for you?” I asked.
“You come recommended and I want you to find somebody for me.”
“Recommendations are hard to come by these days..”, I said, “.. who’s our mutual benefactor?”
“Let’s not worry too much about that.. I’ve lost something.. “
“That was careless of you”, I interrupted.
“.. and I need you to find it in a hurry.”
“What’s the rush?” I asked.
She opened her bag and produced a fat envelope, “This job is on a purely need to know basis and here’s five hundred pounds up front.”
I left her hand holding the envelope in the space between us, “If I agree I need to know that I’m not getting involved in anything illegal.. and assuming that it is legal I also need to know who you’re looking for.”
“It’s a dog..”
There followed a long silence while I took the envelope.
“Have you tried the Battersea Dog’s Home?” I asked.
“I didn’t lose it in the street, it was stolen from me..”
“Who stole it and why?”
“If I knew where it was I wouldn’t be asking you to find it for me.”
“Okay, what kind of dog is it and where was it stolen?”
“It’s a border terrier.. I live in Bourchier Street..” she waited for a reaction from me but didn’t get one. Bourchier Street had a gated block of smart apartments that only the rich could afford, and she looked like she lived in one of those.
“.. I was walking the dog when someone grabbed me from behind and pulled a bag over my head and threw me to the ground.. by the time I could recover they had fled with my dog.”
I reluctantly tried to hand the envelope back to her, “The dog could be anywhere now, it is impossible for me to find it.”
She left the envelope hanging in my hand between us, “This where it gets complicated, I know who stole it.”
I withdrew the envelope and said, “Tell me about it.”
“I can’t tell you everything but there is an illicit bar on the first floor of a building in Wardour Street and the owner has my dog.”
“Do you mean Sean’s bar?” I asked.
She looked surprised, “How do you know that?”
“There probably isn’t a bar in Soho, illicit or otherwise that I don’t know intimately.”
“Is he a friend of yours?”
“Sean doesn’t have friends he only has acquaintances. Now I need to know
what you’re not telling me.. Sean is the last person to have a pet dog.. unless it was a Rottweiler.”
“I just want the dog back.. is that okay with you?.. you don’t need to know anymore.”
The five hundred pounds was burning a hole in my pocket and I was quite enjoying the heat so I decided to keep the money, stop asking questions and go and see Sean.
Sean’s bar only opened when he was in the mood. He stood behind a brown bar in a brown room with brown linoleum floor tiles. It could have all been battleship grey but they probably didn’t have any other paint in stock that day. At one table there were a couple of men in sheepskin jackets who probably called themselves ‘antique dealers’. And sitting at the bar in his usual place was Busby Bob running his fingers through his impressive afro. I nodded to Bob and turned to Sean.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I’ll have a goji berry smoothie please.”
Sean poured a large measure of whisky straight from the bottle, “You’ll probably need to dilute it”, he said, sarcastically.
“Isn’t it watered down already?”
Catching his eye I asked, “Can I have my dog back?”
Unfazed Sean held my gaze, “You wouldn’t walk or feed it regularly, you’d be useless… how do you know I’ve got a dog? And anyway what do you want it for?”
“Possibly the same reason as you.”
He continued staring at me with an expression on his face that wasn’t particularly friendly.
“What’s your involvement?” he asked.
“A client has asked me to find her dog, and the scent has led to you.”
His tone was more threatening than friendly, “Take my word for it, you don’t want to become involved.”
“It’s too late I am involved.”
I noticed a silence in the room and sensed eyes penetrating my back.
Then I heard the dog whine in the room behind the bar; I looked at Sean and he didn’t react.
“Why is it so important to you?” I asked.
“It really isn’t anything to do with you.. just keep your nose clean.”
I didn’t know what I was fighting for. I knew where the dog was now and it was obviously not going to be easy to get it back… and why did the woman really want it. The dog had something special that they both wanted and if I was going to risk my life I needed to know what it was.
“What is it about the dog that is so attractive? Wouldn’t a sheep be just as good?” I asked Sean.
One of the antique dealers had joined me at the bar. He had a large serrated blade sticking out of his sleeve which he made sure I could see.
He had a broad southern Irish accent, “Just mind your own business or you’ll end up as dog food.”
Realising that my health was at risk in pursuing the subject I drank the whisky and left a fiver on the counter, “Keep the change, the dog and be careful you don’t cut yourself”, was my Parthian shot as I made for the door. The dog squealed again, I stopped and then thought better of it.
I crossed over Wardour Street and sat in the sunshine at a pavement café. I had nothing else to do so I spent the next hour trying to think of a solution to the problem. I had been asked to do some strange things in my life but never to kidnap a dog from somebody who obviously had no time for dogs.
I was reading the café’s newspaper when Busby Bob appeared on the opposite pavement with a limping dog on a piece of string. He looked around as though looking for someone and then set off dragging the dog behind him.
It didn’t take long to catch up with him and he didn’t seemed to be surprised to see me. The limping dog had a three inch shaved area with a roughly stitched cut on the back of its hind quarters.
“Are you looking for me?” I asked Bob.
Bob handed me the string and said, “Sean told me to walk the dog… and he said you might turn up…”
Bob turned back and disappeared through the door that led up to Sean’s bar.
It was a short but slow walk back down to Bourchier Street and to the wrought iron gates that enclosed the million pound apartments. There were six bell pushes so I pressed the most interesting name. I assumed that the woman had assumed that I was some kind of detective and by giving me just her street I’d be able to trace her; she was wrong about me being a detective but right about me being able to trace her. Wondering what odds a bookie would give me on how many bells I had to push before I found her; it turned out to be the fifth bell out of six – not good, I wondered if they paid each way.
It wasn’t difficult to recognise her voice and she told me to wait.
She came across the courtyard and saw the dog through the wrought iron gate. A look of horror appeared on her face that made me doubt that I would be able to keep all the money.
She almost screamed at me, “I wanted it in a hurry.. it’s too late now, the dog’s been opened up.”
We both examined the three-inch cut with half a dozen gaping stiches.
“It’s only a scratch”, I said.
I answered the unasked question myself – the dog had contained something they both wanted and I no longer needed to know what.
She turned away and disappeared into the building – leaving me holding the dog.
We hope you enjoyed this short story.
For more short stories by A.W. Rock go here.