“Beer,” I say.
She wipes down the bar in front of me.
What kind, she says, approaching the tap.
She fills a mug, slides it to me.
That’ll be six dollars, she says.
I pull out my wallet, slide a C-note over.
She freezes, eyes the gold shield before I flip the wallet closed.
“It’s yours,” I tell her.
She hesitates before sliding the bill into her bra.
What else do you expect for it? she says.
I light a Marlboro, take a pull on the beer.
I don’t know anything, she says. Like I told the uniforms.
“I’ll decide what you know or don’t know.”
She pulls the towel from her apron, rewipes the same spot. Eyes the two guys at the other end of the bar.
“Don’t worry about them. I own them. This is about you, me, a dead woman and a perp who got away. You’re going to help me find him.”
She stops wiping. Looks at me hard.
I remove my sunglasses.
She looks deep, doesn’t like what she finds. I can feel the moment she breaks. The hue of her skin changes from pink to gray, caused by the way the sunlight reflects off the fine hairs that now stand on end. Her eyes dim, the breath leaks from her lungs, her bottom lip takes over, tiny wrinkles appear at the corners of her eyes.
It’s like watching someone die.
Yeah, she says. She sighs. Her voice is shaking. The guy was in here before.
“Before what?” I say.
Before that, she says.
She nods at the window, where across the street police tape surrounds the blown-out husk of a tattoo shop that used to double as a mob safe house.
I sip my beer.
Tall, she says, black leather jacket, real nice, soft and smooth. Expensive suit underneath, black on black.
I know the guy. “What else?”
His shoes, she says, were covered in mud.
“What color mud?”
She stops, looks right through me. Red, she says. She takes a Marlboro from my pack. Her fingers shake so much she can’t light the match.
I pull out my Zippo.
The mud was red, she repeats, inhaling, blowing two quick streams of smoke through her nose.
We both know red mud only comes from one place around here. I know where to find him now.
I drop my butt into the last of the beer.
“You did the right thing,” I say.
Please don’t tell anyone, she says. Please. They’ll kill me.
The butt has burned down to her fingers, filling the air with acrid smoke. The washcloth forgotten, she gives me all her attention.
“Don’t worry,” I tell her as I walk away. “You didn’t say a word.”