Monday, January 14, 2013

EXCERPT: The Mayfield Speakeasy

Title: The Mayfield Speakeasy
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Allure
Format(s): Ebook


April 1931

“Name’s Walter Mayfield. I don’t want no trouble.”

No one wanted any trouble. Especially in a place like this. Because this was a speakeasy, you see? The Mayfield Speakeasy. Plenty of them all over town, but this one was popular. Real popular.

The O’Reilly brothers and their goons liked to put back some bootlegged whiskey and smoke cigars—those Cuban cigars that cost way more than the cheap ones everybody else had to make do with—while that pretty dame in the red dress sang next to the piano. That was Shirley. She was new here. She’d be Walter’s sister-in-law soon, if Billy didn’t mess things up.

Anyway, the O’Reilly brothers liked her and they liked the speakeasy.

Problem was, so did the Abandanato brothers and their goons.

Walter’d made it clear to both packs that there’d be no trouble here in the Mayfield Speakeasy. Not if they wanted to keep drinking and smoking and watching Shirley or whoever came along after she got tired of Billy. No guns out of their holsters or on the tables. No picking fights. Didn’t matter whose territory was whose or whose boys ratted whose boys out to the cops. They wanted to fight or even look at each other, they’d damn well take it outside, or else none of them was coming back. Walter meant it, and they all knew it. There’d been more than a few fights and a few bullets on the street outside or in the back alley, but long as the boys were in here, none of them even looked at each other. Because nobody wanted any trouble.

And with those two cops sitting up there at the bar like they had business here, trouble was what was coming. They weren’t in uniform, but they were cops. Showed in the way they’d looked around when they came in, and the way the younger had kept his jacket back just right to show off the butt of that .38.

They were cops, for sure, but something about them didn’t sit right. Cops didn’t come strolling in here and sit at the bar, but that’s what these boys had done.

One of them was young. Wild-eyed, probably the type who joined the force because he was looking for a fight, and still hadn’t found one. Kid hadn’t been close enough to dying yet to calm down.

His partner, he’d been around a while. You could tell from the way he walked. Not wound up like the O’Reilly and Abandanato boys who always expected a gun to their backs, but not quite strolling like a man wandering through the park neither. He was good-looking, Walter noted, though he’d never have said a word to no one about that. You just didn’t go around mentioning it when you noticed a man’s strong jaw, or his eyes that were much too blue in this dark and shady place. You damn well didn’t ask if you could take his jacket just so you could have a better look at a set of shoulders like those, so Walter didn’t, especially because taking his jacket would be an invitation for the man to stay.

He stood right across from them, hands on the bar and leaning over them so they had to look up at him. Music still played, and Shirley was still singing in that pretty voice of hers, but nobody was talking. Nobody except Walter.

“Name’s Walter Mayfield,” he’d said. “I don’t want no trouble.”

The younger cop pushed himself up and raised his hand from his trouser pocket. “I’m Detective—”

Sit down,” the other hissed, and snatched the upraised hand. “You let me do the talking, you hear?”

“Joe, we’re—”

“Sit down now.”

The kid—and that’s what he was, a kid—looked plenty chastened when he sat back down, but Walter kept his guard up. Never knew what kind of game they might be playing.

With his partner settled down, at least for the moment, the older one looked up at Walter and extended his hand. “Name’s Joe Riordan.”

Walter didn’t shake Joe’s hand. “Ain’t you a detective, too?”

Joe shot a look at his partner, who kept thumping his thumb on Walter’s bar. To Walter, Joe said, “I am, yeah.”

Walter leaned in closer. Doesn’t make sense, a man’s eyes being so bright in this— He gestured at the door. “How’s about you get out of my bar before we all get more trouble than we want tonight.”

Joe didn’t move. “I ain’t here to mess with your business.”

“It ain’t just my business I’m worried about. Some of my clientele, they don’t like the cops, and if my clientele ain’t happy…”

Joe looked over his shoulder. Everybody was watching. From the way some of the boys sat, there were guns out now, too. Under the tables, most likely. Just right to make sure these detectives didn’t make a scene. Not a long one, anyhow.

Walter put up a hand and nodded to the most senior members present from each of the two gangs. Postures relaxed, but the guns stayed out. Men turned and whispered to each other.

Billy had stopped playing the piano, and Shirley wasn’t singing anymore. Whole place was way too quiet when Walter wanted to kick out a few stray cops without a ruckus. Billy watched him, eyes wide like he didn’t know just what to think.

“Play us another one, Billy,” Walter called across the lounge. “Let’s hear what that girl’s pipes are made of.”

Billy hesitated. He eyed his older brother, then the two gangs of goons looking around like they wanted a fight. But then he took a drink, set his glass on top of the piano again, and started playing. Some fast thing he’d known for years, and it only took Shirley a couple of bars to join in.

Didn’t relax everybody, but it did mean Walter could throw out the cops without being so loud about it.

“We’ve got a deal with Vice,” he said. “You boys leave us alone, and—”

“I ain’t part of Vice, and I don’t give a damn what kind of place you’re running here or what those boys are up to.” Joe slid a card across the table. Just a photo of a young girl, that was all. “I need to talk to you, Mr. Mayfield.”

“I don’t have business with the police, and I ain’t going to let my clientele think I do.”

“No, I wouldn’t expect you would.” Joe nodded toward the photo. “But you might have a look at that, just in case it interests you.”

Walter didn’t pick it up right away, but eventually he did, and that’s when he noticed the folded piece of paper underneath it, and he looked at Joe again.

Quieter than before, low enough Walter almost didn’t hear him above Shirley and the piano, Joe said, “I don’t want any trouble either, Mr. Mayfield, but I need to talk to you.” His eyes flicked toward the paper, then met Walter’s. “Midnight. It’s important.”

Before Walter could tell him he wasn’t interested, Joe stood and plucked the photo out of Walter’s hand.

“Well, if you see heads or tails of the poor girl,” he said loud enough the whole place heard him, “give me a call, would you?” Then he looked at the gathered clientele, tipped his hat, and strolled on out of the Mayfield Speakeasy like he was just walking out of church on Sunday morning. And that partner of his wised up and followed him, too.

Everybody was watching them go, so while they looked the cop’s way, Walter picked up that folded slip of paper they’d left behind. Behind the bar, he held it low so no one could see, and thumbed it open.

Oleander Hotel. Rm 32. Regarding your brother.

Walter swallowed, wondering just when his mouth got so dry. He stowed the piece of paper in his trouser pocket just before William O’Reilly and Tony Abandanato stomped up to the bar.

William thumped the bar with his knuckles. “You said no cops in this place, Mayfield. We got a problem here?”

“We don’t want to see them here, you know that,” Tony said. Only thing these boys ever agreed on was they didn’t want to no cops wandering through their watering hole.

Walter wasn’t one to argue about that either, but he put up his hands. “Relax, boys. Detectives were just sniffing around for a young girl. Say she got lost around here and wanted to know if I’d seen her. That’s all.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. William scratched his jaw.

“What would a kid be doing in a place like this?” Tony asked.

Walter shrugged. “Guess she’s been seen around here before. Playing out on the street with the neighborhood kids.” He grabbed two glasses out from under the bar and a bottle of brandy. “Now take these, on the house”—he poured them each the same amount—“and get back to your boys.”

He set the bottle down and pushed the glasses toward them. They glanced at each other, and Walter thought for a moment there might be some trouble after all, but then they took their glasses, offered each other a slight salute, and then returned to their respective corners of the speakeasy.

Alone at the bar again, he glanced across the lounge at Billy. It could’ve been about his older brother John they were after, but he doubted it. If the cops were involved, then chances were it had to do with Billy. It always did.

What trouble have you gotten yourself into this time, kid?

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