In this, the tenth instalment of my series ‘Inspired’, I have had the privilege of collaborating once more with the incredibly talented Lelya Borisenko. For those of you following the series, I have previously collaborated with Lelya on ‘It’s just a Story.’ Head back to my blog post on April 30th if you would like to see it.
Lelya was born in Ukraine, but now resides in Russia. She studied academical painting, easel graphics, etching and engraving at the Kharkov State Academy of Design and Fine Arts, and her work has been exhibited all over Europe. If you love her work as much as I do, you can see more at her website or her Instagram.
Once again, I wrote a shorty story, which I sent to Lelya, who in turn created this stunning image inspired by the story. Thank you Lelya, for bringing my work to life so perfectly!
Blood stained silk
The joint was beginning to fill up now, the sound of laughter and chatter building along with the cloud of cigarette smoke which hung heavy in the air. I stared at the bottom of my now empty glass, the ice cubes inside melting in the heat of my hand. She was late.
“Can I get you another?”
I look up to see one of the waitresses, a leggy blonde with wide eyes and a tight black uniform, carrying a tray with the grace of a dancer. She probably was one, either that or an actress, they all were in this town. Every gal who served you a drink or showed you to your table had stars in their eyes. Most of them would end up all the worse for their dreams, pregnant or penniless. This place swallowed girls like her whole.
“Scotch on the rocks.”
She smiles, and carries away my empty glass. I check my watch again. Where was she? She had sounded so desperate on the phone, yet here I am waiting around like some schmuck. It had been three days since she walked into my office, tears filling her deep, dark eyes.
“That’s what it says on the door lady.”
She looked at the glass then, the words etched and painted gold, ‘Rick Lawson, Private Investigator.’ I took that moment to drink her in, and boy, was she one tall glass of water. She had auburn hair, styled neatly with a black fascinator in the front, a small black veil over one brown eye. Her skin was a perfect porcelain, and it made her lips stand out all the more, cherry red on white. She wore a black dress, cut in a V low enough to see her breasts heave as she breathed, but not low enough to give the wrong impression. The dress was expensive, as were the shoes and the fur stole over her left shoulder. This dame had money, which made me wonder what she was doing in this part of town, darkening my door with her curved silhouette.
“Sit down. Drink?”
I gestured to the beat up leather chair in front of my paper strewn desk. She eyed it suspiciously before gracefully lowering herself into it, the split in her skirt opening as she crossed one long leg over the other.
“Please, whiskey if you have some.”
I poured her a measure, along with one for myself, and set the glass in front of her. Her hand trembled as she reached for it.
She sipped at it, and I stayed quiet, letting her compose herself. She was scared, that much was obvious, painted in the expression of her beautiful face. Of what, I wasn’t sure, and part of me wondered if it would be worth the pay. After a moment, setting the empty glass down, she seemed to find her voice.
“How do I ensure your discretion?”
It was one hell of an opening question. Evidently, we weren’t going to be skirting around.
“It’s in my contract. You hire me and sign on the dotted line, and I keep your secrets. My job wouldn’t work without that trust. Blabbing would be career suicide, besides, I ain’t no snitch.”
She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow at this, and seemed to accept what I said. She insisted on hiring me then and there, providing a crisp twenty dollar bill as a retainer, and placing her elegant signature at the bottom of the page. As I signed my own name, I read hers, ‘Eleanor Montgomery.’ My eyes darted to her face. How had I not recognised her? Her face was splashed across every society page in that town, she was the ‘it’ girl whose entire life was newspaper fodder. Daddy owned most of the city, and half the politicians. He was a very powerful man, and one you did not cross unless you were prepared to meet your maker a little sooner than planned. She must have caught my look, and seen the sudden recognition written all over my dumb face.
“I see you know me then.”
“Everybody knows you Miss Montgomery.”
“Please, call me Eleanor.”
She spoke so sweetly, I could feel myself colour slightly at her words.
“Whats a dame like you doing all the way down town? Surely, whatever problem you have, daddy can take care of. Hell, he would have the Police chief himself take care of it.”
Her face reddened and her mouth tensed as angry tears filled her eyes. `I had upset her, and I chastised myself for it.
“I didn’t mean any offence Miss M…Eleanor. I just meant, you have a lot of resources available to you. I’m not sure how a low level guy such as myself, can help a gal like you.”
Her face relaxed a little, and she seemed to accept my ham fisted apology.
“I’m here because my father can never know about it. I need someone outside of his circle, and as you can imagine, that list is very small. Truthfully Mr Lawson, you were my only option.”
It was nice to know I came so highly recommended as a last resort. I had started to feel impatient.
“Well, you signed, and I work for you now. What is it you want exactly?”
There it was, that eye brow again. Obviously, she wasn’t used to people talking to her like that.
“I need someone to investigate my father. To find something on him that he can’t bribe away or make disappear. I need him holding a smoking gun, a body limp in his arms. I need blood on his hands, and I need it photographed for everyone to see. There are honest cops in the force, not many, but some and if such material fell into their hands, they would make sure it found it’s way to the right people. They would be able to take him down, for good.”
I laughed, I couldn’t help it. Take down Malcolm Montgomery? The richest, most powerful man for a hundred miles? The man who owned every crooked cop and shady politician in the state? The man who murdered as easily as a person would brush their teeth? It was suicide. Clearly Miss Montgomery had daddy issues, and she was taking it to a dangerous place. She might be willing to go down in flames, but I would be damned if she took me with her. In response, she burst into desperate and frenzied tears, black lines snaking their way down her cheeks.
“Please, I have no one else to turn to. He’s a monster, don’t you understand? He killed my mother because she tried to leave and he murdered the man I loved simply because he loved me. I have tried to run away a thousand times, but he always finds me. He won’t let me go. Please, please..”
Her voice grew fainter, until I couldn’t make out what she said. She sobbed for a little while more, before she finally stopped, her head bent and her face cradled in her hands. The room fell silent, but the words which had just been spoken, seemed to shout louder than anything I had ever heard.
My heart broke for the dame. She was obviously so desperate, so afraid,and here I am laughing in her face. I’ve never been good at the whole emotions deal, and for once, I was speechless. Without knowing what to say, I had just poured her another measure and handed her my dirty handkerchief, both of which were accepted gratefully.
I must have been a fool, to agree to help her, but aren’t all men fools in the presence of a beautiful woman? Perhaps I had said yes just so I could see her again, or perhaps for once in my stinking life, I wanted to do something right, something important. Following cheating husbands and wives might put food on the table, but it’s poor sustenance for the soul. Either way, she had agreed to pay me ten dollars a day, plus expenses, and I had agreed to stick my neck out for some broad I barely know.
On the way out of my office that day, she had kissed me, right on the cheek. The softest, sweetest kiss I had ever known.
As if he would do otherwise. He stroked his cheek now, the memory almost as tender as the kiss itself. I snapped myself out of it. Someone like her would never be interested in the likes of me. There’s a pecking order to life, and I’m near the bottom.
I had been doing the rounds since that day. Following the dogs body on the very bottom rung, to the next guy up, and so on, trying to suss out who were the people to follow. She had provided me with names and photos in a dossier, along with any pieces of information she had learned or snippets of conversations overheard, about her father’s businesses, legitimate and illegal. Hell, it was better than most Police reports I’d seen, and it was a good start to my investigation. I told her it would take time. Getting dirt on people like her father and his inner circle wasn’t like catching some husband on top of his secretary. This was a complicated network which had taken decades to build. She had accepted this, and I had got to work straight away. I was making pretty good progress, when she called.
She sounded terrified, her voice shaking, her sobs audible between each desperate word. There was a reason I had agreed to drop everything and get down here pronto, and there was a reason I felt the weight of my revolver in my inside jacket pocket. I was afraid for her.
She hadn’t said hello, or who it was, she had just launched in.
“Eleanor? Who knows?”
“May father. He knows I hired you. He’ll kill me.”
“Calm down. What’s happened?”
“I overheard him talking to Vinny this evening. He knows, and this time I’ve gone to far. It’s not like when I ran away. This time I’ve stood against him, I’ve betrayed him. He’ll kill me.”
Vinny was Malcolm’s second in command, and a real piece of work. He didn’t just do the guys dirty work for the money and the broads, no, he did it because he enjoyed hurting people.
“Get out of there now. Meet me and we’ll work this out.”
“I can’t come to your office. He’ll definitely have me followed. We need to meet somewhere public, somewhere he can’t…”
She trailed off at that point. Nothing further needed to be said. We both knew what could happen if her father had discovered her betrayal. She had hired and investigator, found the names of the clean Police officers in her father’s files, the ones who would not sway to money but who could perhaps, down the line, be blackmailed or worse. She had dug up as much information as she could, about his businesses, the people who came and went, hell she had included car registrations and everything. She had handed all of that over with the hopes of destroying him. If he had found out, she would die, and she would be lucky if it was quick.
“Ok, meet me at Judy’s place in an hour. I’ll bring my gun.”
“Ok, ok…one hour.”
“You need to calm down. If he realises you know, you’ll not even make it out of the house.”
I could hear her her trying to slow her breathing.
“You know he will kill you too right? He knows what I gave you, what I hired you to do.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m bringing my gun.”
“Don’t thank me yet, we need to survive first.”
“No, thank you, for trying to help me.”
I could feel heart strings tugging inside my chest that I thought had snapped and withered years ago.
“It’s going to be alright.”
And then she had hung up. She had sounded almost resigned at the end of the call. I hope and pray she hasn’t done something stupid. She was really late now, and visions of a bloated body washing on shore, start floating through my mind, tearing at my guts. People never disappeared when they crossed Malcolm Montgomery. They were always found, always publicly, by some poor kid or a guy walking his grey hound. He liked to make an example. I fear, it will be all the more public when it comes to his own blood.
Just then, I saw her, in fact, so did the whole room. Every man in there ignored the floozy they were with to watch her glide across the floor. It was like art in motion. She wore a white silk dress which clung to her body in all the right places. She looked like a lily, or a white rose, all delicate petals and stems. She was breathtaking. I could see goons coming in behind her. She had been right to request the meeting somewhere private. Lots of witnesses here, and if there was one thing Malcolm didn’t like, it was witnesses.
She smiled at me, just a half smile, with closed lips. I could see she was relieved, she probably thought she wouldn’t make it here, or if she did, she would find an empty seat where I should be. This was the easy part, losing the goons and slipping out the exits to the car I had stashed in the alleyway behind Judy’s, that would be the hard part. But for now, they were alive, and they were together.
I didn’t even hear the shots, nor the screaming that followed, or the noise of men and women scrambling to get out of the line of fire. All I saw was her smile fall, and two red dots growing and spreading across white silk. I didn’t even think, I just acted, pulling my gun and taking aim at the guy on the stairs, one, two, three shots and he crumpled and fell down the stairs. I grabbed her and dragged her behind the bar, as further shots rained down on me, sending glass splintering and booze raining down. I felt warm spread across my arm, and I knew I’d been hit, but I felt no pain, adrenaline kicking in.
“Hang on baby.”
I stuck my head above the bar. There was still two, both firing blindly at the bar. One stood below a large fabric banner, hung to hide the spot lights above. Two shots broke the chain and sent it down on him. He was blinded and one shot was all it took to make him fall. Problem was, there was still one guy, and I was out of ammo.
But the sirens came then, like the songs of angels, and I heard him rush from the bar, sending a table over as he went. I pulled her towards me and knew immediately she was in a bad way. Her breathing was shallow and laboured, and small bubble formed in the blood escaping one the bullet holes. It had penetrated her lung, and she was drowning in her own blood. I used my mac to stem the flow, applying pressure with one hand, and held her head in my lap with the other. Her eyes were wide with fear, and her skin was almost drained entirely of colour. Her white dress was almost entirely red now. It matched her lips.
“Hang on, the ambulance is coming, just hang on,”
She reached one of her hands to my face, and touched it gently, then she smiled at me before her hand fell limp and her eyes closed. There were no bubbles now, no more blood flowing or wheezing breathe. She was still and I was broken.
The sirens grew louder now, and I could hear screeching wheels and slamming car doors. I had to get out, or they would arrest me, and no doubt I would have some kind of convenient ‘accident’ in my cell. But I was torn, I couldn’t leave her. I placed my mac over her like a sheet, and removed the bracelet from her left hand. I don’t know why. I just needed to have a piece of her with me, I needed to not leave all of her behind. I kissed her head, and then I ran.
I ran out back and took off just as the cops were busting in the front. My car wheels smoked and screeched as I pulled away. I had no idea where I was going, I just had to get away from there. A million thoughts were running through my mind. The cops would be looking for me now, and the ones in Malcom’s pocket would never let me live long enough to see the inside of a court room. Every one of his goons and cronies would be kicking down doors looking for me. I can’t go back to my office, or my apartment. So I just drive, hoping something will come to me.
Suddenly, I see her eyes closing again, her hand going limp. I look down, and I realise I’m awash with her blood, and for the first time in many years, I feel tears falling. I slammed on the brakes and barely came to a stop in time to avoid a plunge down the steep hills which lead back to the city below. I’m losing it, I can’t do this. I scream and punch the steering wheel until my knuckles bleed. When I’m exhausted, and I’ve had a chance to get some of what I’m feeling out of my system, I hunch and cry, my shoulders shaking. Why did she have to die? I never had a shot with her, I know that, but she was the closest thing I’ve ever come to caring about somebody other than my own selfish ass.
I let the self pity wash over me, and then I clench my fists around the steering wheel, and punch the gas pedal. I have an old school friend out East who will put me up, give me time to formulate a plan. Malcolm Mason made a mistake killing her, and he made an even bigger one letting me live. Nothing is more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose. I was going to kill the bastard. I was going to dedicate every waking moment of the rest of my snivelling life to his death. I won’t let her death be in vein. I’ll finish what she started, and then some. I’ll not stop until his head is on a spike in the middle of down town, or I’ll die trying.
I’m coming for you Malcolm…you hear me? I’m coming for you.