I didn’t know where I woke up. The bed sheets smelt like wet cigarettes and old beer. A small room with fading pink wallpaper appeared as my bloodshot eyes focused. I was in some roach motel I didn’t recognize. The Bag! Cold panic hit me like ice water.
The leather travel bag was sitting in the armchair. I sighed in relief.
There was a pack of smokes on the nightstand. I reached over for them—it was empty. Lousy luck is all I’ve had since I took on this assignment. The thing that drove me bat shit was that I didn’t even know who hired me or what I was even supposed to go. All it took was two things at my office to get this wild goose chase started, a note and a bag. Oh, yeah, the attached 50K of crispy hundred dollar bills might have done something to motivate me too. There was a note scratched with some fancy writing. Whoever scribbled it had spent a fair amount of time with a book shoved in their face. The ends of the letters curled like the eyelashes of a troubled dame. I assumed it was a woman, probably a librarian, or a man who secretly wore women’s clothes. There are plenty of freaks and weirdos to go around in this town. Nothing surprises me anymore. But the message threw me for a curveball.
Was this some sort of joke? But five-hundred c-notes don’t bullshit anyone in my line of work. Whoever dropped this off wanted the assignment to be done without error. ‘Then why the absurd message?’ I wondered. For a second I suspected it might be too good to be true. I put my ear against the bag. Not a sound, anyways it was too light to be a bomb, and who in their right mind would toast fifty thousand of their own cash? It be a lot cheaper to just hand me the dough and let me drink myself to death, if greasing me was their intention. The bag itself was an ordinary black leather travel bag except the metal zipper had been melted shut. The only way to open it was with a knife. This mystery client must be in some big time danger. Whoever it was didn’t risk a phone call or quick chat. Even the message was enigmatic as the hieroglyphics on King Tut’s tomb. What or who the hell was “Blubber Island”? I was reading the note when suddenly the phone rang.
“Shizy, private eye,” I spoke into the receiver still looking at the note in my hand. There was a long second of nothing and then he spoke.
Male, Caucasian, in his late twenties with a serious drug habit. I waited for him to continue.
“You got a gun?” the junkie asked.
“I got two. Who are you, punk?”
A dead line.
I reached into the desk drawer and pulled out my 357 snub nose revolver. Somebody was watching me. I could feel eyes slithering all over arms and face. I peeked through the blinds. The sun was sinking down on a city crowded with people going about. The sky turned shades of deep purple and color of blood oranges. The junkie who made the call could be baiting me to rush outside straight into an ambush. But staying in here was pointless if they already knew where I was. I took it as a tip off for the time being. One thing was for sure, I needed to get the hell out of there before someone came looking for me.
My senses were on fire. I put on my coat and hat before grabbing the bag, gun, and loot. The air I breathed felt like cold threads being pulled into my lungs. I flicked off the lights. Soft blades of light, from the streetlamps outside, cut into my office. For a moment I leaned against the wall. ‘What are you doing, man? You’re going to stick your neck out for 50K. Why not throw the suitcase outside the window and write it off as a rejected proposal?’ I pictured my body lying on a cold metal table in autopsy room. Morticians in blue scrubs wearing white masks walked around me while I stared down at myself with eyes like two dead goldfish.
The doorknob on the front door jiggled.
My eyes darted towards the noise. I froze. Through the frosted window panel was a shadow of a figure wearing a hat. From the outline I could tell it was large man. The shadow loomed there staring into my darkened office without the slightest movement. Slowly I reached into my coat pocket for the steel. Was this the guy they sent to cut my throat? It was too late to turn back now. Even if I handed over the bag I’ve already become too much of a liability. I’d kill me to if I were him. There was only two ways out of the office. I could go out the window, but that would mean an eight story suicide. The other was through the waiting shadow. I was stuck in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Sweat was breaking out all over my face. I was trapped. The thought of blasting him through window came to mind. I pointed my gun at the figure. My finger was squeezing on the trigger—I stopped. What if I blew the head off a cop? I lowered my gun. My only option was to play the rotten hand good enough to save my skin. Quietly I moved through the dark until I was ducking by the window. Was I hallucinating? The shadow seemed to grow larger. The aura of death came over me. The blood in my veins turned cold as blunted lead slug. Across the street from my window a lone utility pole stood. The door begun to shake violently, all the while the shadow remained still. I lifted up the blinds and fired outside the window. The transformer on the power pole exploded in a blinding shower of sparks killing every light in the building. Suddenly, I heard the sound of breaking glass and the door smash in. In the perfect darkness, for a brief moment, I saw the glint of a knife appear out of nothing. I swung my gun and fired. In the muzzle flash a shapeless black form moved towards me like a panther. I managed to squeeze off another round when I felt a blade cut open the side of my face and someone smash into me. We grappled on the floor. I felt an arm and grabbed for its wrist. With my other hand I gripped a shirt collar. I twisted my body and hurled the assailant through the window. Broken glass trickled onto the street. When I looked outside there was a man lying dead with a switchblade clutched in his death grip.
I grabbed a bottle of whisky from my bookshelf and took a long drink. He would have had my number if it wasn’t for junkie’s anonymous call. I made my way out of the office and into the hall. There wasn’t a bit of light in the building. Luckily, I knew the place so well I could walk it with my eyes closed. ‘Turn right, walk about thirty feet, and the stairwell is on the left,’ were the directions in my head. I descended the stairs taking care not to break an ankle. Going down I realized this was the first time I had taken the stairs. There was no point in taking the long walk up or down because of the elevator. I’d push a button and twenty seconds later the doors open up. How long does it take going by stairs? This long walk feels like I’m going to end up in the subway. The air suddenly weighed a hundred pounds. What the hell is going on here? My head is getting drowsy. I can’t help it. I’m losing conciseness. Pulling the bag to me— I blackout.
That’s the last thing I remember before waking up in this strange room. From the looks of it everything is still here. My gun, the money, the bag, nothing is gone. Even my empty packet of cigarettes is still here. My throat was dry. I got up for a glass of water with the gun in my hand. I filled up the cheap plastic tumbler next to the ice bucket and drank down some stale tasting tap water. In the mirror the ugly gash on my face stood out. The cut was deep and there was a lot of dried blood on my face. I looked like the movie poster to a slasher film. This was insane. Was it even worth the 50K anymore? I wondered. That’s when I heard a sound. A faint scratching was coming from behind me. I spun around ready to blast. That’s when I realized where it was coming from, the bag. I stepped towards it cautiously. There was something definitely moving inside the bag. I would have noticed this before. I can be dumb, but not that dumb. That’s when I heard the muffled cry of a tiny animal. I didn’t have a choice. Using my trusty switchblade I punctured the leather bag and cut it open. Two big green eyes appeared from within the bag. A black kitten jumped out. I admit she got the drop on me. Without meaning to talk to her I said, “This doesn’t make any sense.” We stared at each other for a while then she gave an excruciatingly long meow. Her white collar said her name was “Ninja.” For an all-black cat the name was fitting. At least something made sense.
I took her with me. Someone had to feed her.