Story: The Crack Angel
The kid in the flat below is on the drums. Windows rattle, as he hammers his way from snare to hi-hat, ending in a crescendo of pedal work that shakes my windows. He’s had three girlfriends in five months; two of them fashion models.
The new one sings with a band.
I want to ask what he’s doing right that I’m doing wrong, but I know the answer, it’s been years since I had cheekbones like his.
We’re off Wardour Street. Opposite Doc Savage’s Walk In Medical Clinic and next to Lester’s Comic Shop. William Hogarth drank in our local, Jeffrey Barnard used to piss in the doorway, and Karl Marx bought his cigars in a shop round the corner. Using Engels’ money, obviously.
These days the shop sells mobiles.
The Brazilian girl below our drum player is away for the week. Her father owns a slum above Rio. Someone’s after her, she told me one drunken night. Three brandies and a fumble later, I still don’t know if she meant the police or enemies of her father. Either way, I’m meant to warn her if strangers come snooping.
I live at the top. A poky little flat.
At ground level in our alley, next to Doc Savage’s, is a vodka bar. Before it was a bar, it was a computer-repair shop, before that an internet cafe.
All three owned by a blond Russian. Vladimir has knife scars on both arms. The wounds are not defensive, they’re invited. The kind you take when blocking a blade, because you intend to do worse damage in return.
Vlad’s not someone you want to meet in a fight.
A knock at the door dismisses that thought. It’s the kid with the drums. Although now he’s clutching a five-string bass. He has it slung over his shoulder like a rifle, on a strap that mixes Cabalistic symbols with bad Egyptian and worse Greek.
‘You’ve got a caller.’
As he turns to go, I see a blonde standing behind him. She’s tall and obviously not English. Almost nobody in Soho is, although I can pass for it.
‘Mr Red?’ she asks.
The boy with the guitar shoots me a grin.
‘That’s me,’ I say.
She checks the card she’s holding. Panama Red, Esq. The card’s black plastic, English on one side, Japanese on the other. Special deal from ProntoPrint on Dean Street. ‘You really a licensed PI?’
‘Take your pick,’ I say.
A dozen PI certificates decorate the walls of my office. At least two are real, and one of them is actually mine. Of course, you can’t use a Puerto Rican licence in London. But most of my clients don’t know that.
‘Why are you smiling?’
‘Thinking about an old case,’ I tell her.
It’s true. Five cases in seven years. The last one made me rich enough to take things easy for a while. Of course, that’s rich in my language. To the Brazilian it’s two handbags, a Burberry trench coat and one of those little Louis Vuiton cases with trolley wheels.
My while is up. And here comes a knock at my door. One step ahead of the bailiffs. Which is a lot better than one step behind.
The newcomer glances doubtfully around at my office. Since the window is broken and a Victorian gutter gurgles under a wooden window seat, I don’t blame her. But my whiskey bottle is in the drawer, the cocaine is long gone and what’s left of my dope is in the bottom of a North African vase.
She wants to tell me it’s none of my business. Only, if it’s none of my business why is she here? At the top of five flights of stairs, looking all the better for being caught in the rain wearing a thin cotton blouse and no bra.
A temper, tightly under control. Sounds like my kind of case.