It was 2:00AM. Another late night stakeout. Eight hours of staring at a window. Sometimes I wonder why I became a private investigator. It sure wasn’t for the money. At least this night of lost sleep was being paid for by Hegeman’s Casualty Co. They’ve had me tailing Sid, the company bean counter, for the past six weeks. Boss thought he was skimming the books. I wasn’t seeing it. Sid spends mornings in Livonia’s Coffee Shop. The newspaper has more flavor than his ‘dry toast and coffee’ breakfasts. He drives a run-down Buick to the office. Never eats lunch. Evenings he makes the jalopy climb Route 9 to Hal’s Burger Heaven.
I figured Mr. Bean Counter wasn’t going anywhere tonight, so I took off, knowing I’d catch up with him at daybreak at Livonia’s. Sleep wasn’t on my agenda, not yet. I headed downtown. The rhythms of the Village Jazz Club lured me in like a bee to a sunflower. Buzzing through the sensuous clouds of smoke, I gave Vern the nod and slid into my favorite booth. He sent Tina with a shot of Jameson. I lit a cigarette, took a swig, and let the warmth slide down. As my body swayed to Slim Watkins’ saxophone, a hot little number came over to the table.
I looked up. Didn’t say a word, but my eyes told her it was okay to sit down.
“Can I have a smoke?”
I slid over a Lucky Strike. Soft fingers caressed the smooth paper. She lifted it to her dark red lips and leaned across the table. I flicked my lighter – it’s been with me since the war – and reached across. Drawing my hands close, bringing the flame to the edge of the cigarette, she took a deep drag, puffing out smoke rings that floated like halos around an angel. I was entranced.
“What’s your name, gorgeous?”
She took another deep drag, looked up to the ceiling and slowly exhaled. Staring at her soft neck, at the way she held her pretty head, the way her hands and body were in rhythm with Slim’s sax, I wanted this one.
“Laura Ann. Laura Ann Martin. But you can call me ‘Sugar’ because I’m the sweetest thing you’ll ever meet.”
Dry toast and coffee. Ten weeks. Maybe the bean counter deserved a pay raise for honesty. “If he’s skimming, he’s doing a bad job.”
Hegeman chomped a day-old Havana as his pudgy right hand smashed down on the intercom switch. “Give Mr. Margate his check.”
I thanked him. Told him to call if he needs my services again.
The secretary handed me a check on my way out.
Since that night the mocha-skinned dream came into my life, I’ve spent every free minute at the club, sitting in my favorite booth, listening to Slim, and scouting the floor. I have a smoke and a shot of Jameson, looking and wondering if Laura Ann was just a dream.
[Posted on Nov. 2, 2015. Edited on Jan. 24, 2016. Edited on Apr. 12, 2016]