- ALY MONROE
Books - Washington Shadow
At about two in the morning of 26 September the telephone rang. Cotton picked it up and groaned,'Yes?'
‘I need you to come with me, sir,’ said Mullins. ‘We need to be discreet.’
‘How long will it take you to get here?’
Cotton pulled himself out of bed, wet and wiped his eyes, dressed and went downstairs. Mullins was already there in a Humber Super Snipe from some way up in the car pool.
Cotton got in. 'What's going on?’ he asked.
‘We're going to a roadhouse, sir,’ said Mullins as he put the car into gear.
Cotton waited. When Mullins had the car in fourth gear, he cleared his throat.
‘You were on my way, sir.’
Cotton glanced at him but Mullins said nothing more. A little later Mullins turned a corner at enough speed for the back to slide. Expertly he corrected the drift and put his foot down. If they were being discreet they were also in a hurry.
They entered a riverside area of warehouses and alleys, very run-down, some buildings abandoned, some in ruins. What lighting there was there was poor, but Mullins used the disused metal rails set in the cobblestone road as a guide and barely slackened speed. At the end of a derelict row he slowed and turned. Ahead of them, beside rather than overlooking the Potomac, was Mullins’ ‘roadhouse’. Even at night it was a clapped–out-looking place. The painted sign lit from above said ‘The Flying Boat’.
They got out of the car and Mullins turned directly to their left. Cotton had not picked out the police car parked in the shadows. He saw Mullins bend to the window, saw him nod, then stand up and come back.
‘I need another ten dollars, sir.’
Cotton looked in his wallet. He had precisely eleven. He gave Mullins the ten.
‘Back in a minute,’ said Mullins. ‘Keep the dollar ready.’
Cotton nodded. He put his wallet away and slid the dollar bill into his side jacket pocket. Near him he could see the ground was scrubby and littered. When he looked up and back towards his right he could see a faint, slightly grainy glow over Washington from the lighting and the silhouette of some sort of crane nearby.
The police car door slammed and Mullins and a Washington patrolman approached him.
‘You don’t need to say anything, sir,’ murmured Mullins, ‘but you will look around, won’t you? In my slaughterhouse there was a health inspector who would always scowl.'
Cotton nodded and the three of them walked to the roadhouse door. A puffy-faced bouncer opened it and stepped back.
‘If I can I help, gentlemen, just call.’
They ignored him. Barely lit, the place reeked of fried food and spilt alcohol that had turned rancid. The few clients were middle-aged males, there were a couple of bar girls and, swaying on a stage as small as a podium for an orchestra conductor, lit by an overhead bulb, was a plump lady wearing white powder, shadows, fringes and tassels.
Mullins and the policeman did not pause. They walked towards the back and opened a door without knocking. The manager of the Flying Boat was sitting behind a desk in a white shirt with flaps on the shoulders. His tie had a clip of a flying boat and a name badge on his shirt pocket said Captain Bob. There was something wrong with his hair. It was entirely white at the side but looked dyed or as if he was wearing a toupee on top. Then Cotton saw the hair was real but that Captain Bob had mixed white powder and oil at the sides, presumably to give him a mature, rakish look.