So there I was, sitting at Phillies, having a cuppa mud. It had been a long night of tracking down leads that wound up at dead ends. Seems Stella didn’t want to be found. And if there was one thing I had learned on this case, is that whatever Stella wants, Stella gets.
Anyways, Jimmy was behind the counter finishing his cleanup work. Nice enough kid, always polite, but something seemed off. His eyes were always darting up and down the street outside the large glass panes that encircled the diner, searching for something. So, as I motioned for a refill, the front door opens. And would you believe who walked in; Stella and her current paramour Slick Willy. This guy was a piece of work. Nothing happened in this part of town that he didn’t have a finger in or a say in how it was run.
Stella briefly looked up as she settled on the end stool, caught my gaze briefly, then began an inspection of her manicure. This dame was a knockout. The red velvet dress really set off her hair and made her already pale skin almost translucent.
Jimmy produced two cups and set them in front of Stella and Willy. Funny thing, he didn’t pour anything from the pot he used to fill my cup, but their mugs obviously had liquid. Could this joint be one of Slick Willy’s fronts for bootleg?
The phone rang up beside the cash register. Jimmy wiped his hands dry before walking over to answer. After a brief acknowledgement he held the phone up, “For you, boss.” While none of us flinched at Jimmy referring to Willy as “boss”, the term did solidify my theory that Phillies was a front for his operations. I was getting close to cracking this ring wide open. I just needed the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place and thus far Stella was refusing to play along.
Willy slid off his stool and strode to the front of the diner and picked up the phone. When he spoke it was in such a low tone I couldn’t make out what was being said.
Stella lifted her pocketbook up to the counter and began rummaging through its contents. Presently, she pulled out a compact and tube of lipstick and began making up her face. Watching her slowly apply the color to her lips brought a flush to my face so that I pulled my hat further down on my brow. Boy, she had all the moves. She then pulled a napkin out of the dispenser next to her and dabbed lightly at her lips, taking away any excess wax. She then continued to rummage through her purse before she put it aside and stood up.
“You gotta cigarette machine around here?” she asked Jimmy.
Without looking up, Jimmy jerked a thumb to the front of the diner.
As Stella slowly floated behind me she brushed my jacket ever so lightly. A poor slob who was completely taken by her charms might have missed the actual tug as she slipped something into my pocket, but it wasn’t lost on me. After procuring her smokes she came back to her stool and sat down. Again, very briefly, our gazes met. I gave her a quick wink that was hidden from Jimmy and Slick Willy.
I fished out some change from my pocket and threw it on the counter to cover my tab. I readjusted my hat and headed for the door. Willy gave me a quick once over, but continued his conversation.
Outside the diner, I stood with my back against the building and fished out the note Stella had deposited in my jacket pocket. There, on the napkin with her red lipstick kiss was the final piece I needed. In her distinctive hand it read, “Everett Warehouse, 6 AM, shipment due.” At last, Stella had come through. Cracking this case was going to be the feather in my cap. I shoved the note back into my pocket and made a beeline back to my office. Only a couple hours to get all the finishing touches done before the notorious Slick Willy would be sent to the big house for good.
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I couldn’t pass up this week’s challenge. I have always been intrigued by Hopper’s Nighthawks. So full of storytelling possibilities.