A cop car whips past us just as we’re about to cross a narrow street, sirens blaring. I nearly plough right into the bastard, so does Harry but he manages to stop before I do. He doesn’t even look away from his newspaper. He’s got a good sense for that kinda stuff, like he’s got a second pair of eyes or something. The wind from the rushing car whips right through us, rustling our trench coats and almost taking the newspaper clean out of Harry’s hands.
‘Jesus Christ that’s cold. Aren’t you cold? Your feet must be as black as the tarmac by now,’ I say, trying to keep the quiet from creeping back in. Harry tells me he doesn’t feel it. I don’t believe him.
The rest of our trip to Kally’s Diner is quiet. Harry keeps his head buried in the newspaper the whole way there. I’ve still got no idea how he reads in the dark so good.
We’ve been waiting at the diner for an hour now, and our client still hasn’t shown up. Harry and I have been sitting in our usual booth, sipping our coffees slowly to try and make them last longer. Harry tells me how he still can’t figure out what the deal is with this crime wave.
‘Yeah, you and everybody else pal,’ I say.
I don’t keep the conversation going. It’s all we’ve talked about all week. Harry’s been my pal for six years now, so I like to think I can read him like an open book. It’s easy to tell he wants to be doing something more about it. I mean I’d like to help of course, but no ones’ offered us any cash yet. There’s a reason we ain’t called Public Investigators.
The rusty ding-a-ling of the diner door swinging open catches our attention. Could be our client. Harry finally finishes with the newspaper, folding it up and placing it on the table. He takes off his hat and sets it on top, running his hand through his short, dark hair. Heavy black bags ring his eyes. Maybe this is taking more out of him than I thought.
The lady walking through the door makes a beeline for our table, slinging a heavy handbag into her side of the booth. She doesn’t even look at us. ‘Ron and Harry, I presume? Apologies for being late, I had to ensure my husband didn’t suspect anything. I’m certain he’s a filthy cheating…’ She pauses, her eyes finally focusing on us. ‘What the hell?’
‘Is there a problem Miss, uh, Babbit was it?’ She’s got a funny look on her face, like she’s midway between seeing a ghost and stepping in something funny on the sidewalk.
‘Is – is that a raccoon?’
Harry cocks an eyebrow, looking around the diner. What the hell is she talking about? There’s barely anyone in here tonight. Harry asks her if she’s feeling okay. I didn’t think she could look any more confused, but she proves me wrong.
‘Look miss, why don’t you sit down. You look like you’ve had a rough day, maybe a cup of coffee will set you-’
‘Are you serious?’ The frustration in her voice is thicker than a bowl of oatmeal.
‘Yes?’ I only remember a little about why this lady called us out. She mustn’t be getting much sleep. Harry stands up and slinks past me, he’s skinny enough that I don’t even got to move. He says he’s gonna grab another pot of coffee from the counter. Miss Babbit finally sits down. She’s giving me one hell of a wicked stare. Guess it’s on me to kick off the conversation.
‘I’ll admit I’m a little fuzzy on the details of this job, so why don’t you bring me up to speed? You mentioned something about your husband?’
‘What kind of game are you playing at?’
‘You heard me. What the hell is going on here?’
‘I don’t know what to tell you lady, I think I’m more confused than you are right now.’
‘Look me in the eyes and tell me honestly that you don’t see that.’ She’s pointing at Harry. He’s struck up a flirty conversation with the young waitress behind the counter again. There’s a big smile painted on her face, clear as day. You could probably hear her giggling a mile away.
‘Oh my god you’ve named it.’
I’ve still got no clue what she’s going on about, but I can feel my ears start to burn up. ‘If you’ve got something to say about my partner, Miss Babbit, you better just say it.’
‘That’s a fucking raccoon.’
‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’
‘The animal. The literal, actual, furry little garbage eating animal. You’ve dressed it up and… good god why is it so tall?’
Okay, now I know for sure this lady is going bonkers. I’ve heard Harry described plenty of ways, but there ain’t no one who’s ever accused him of being tall. The guy can’t be bigger than four feet. Hell, he’s probably closer to three. As if on cue, Harry starts heading back to the booth. He’s still chatting with the waitress even as he’s walking backwards. That’s his ‘second sense’ coming in again I guess, Harry can walk backwards better than some people can walk forwards.
He sets a steaming jug down in front of Miss Babbit alongside a clean mug, asking if she’d like any milk or cream. She just stares at him, dead quiet, mouth open wider than one of them janky carnival clowns.
‘Well?’ I say, trying to snap her out of it.
‘Harry asked you a question Miss Babbit.’
‘Oh really? And I suppose you understood what “Harry” here said?’
I thought it was cold tonight, but I can feel the sweat starting to make my clothes all clammy. Who the hell does she think she is?
‘Of course I understood what he said, I got fucken ears lady. Harry’s asking you nicely if you want some fucken milk in your coffee alright? So, stop treating him like dirt or we’re walking outta here.’ I can’t help but raise my voice. It’s lucky there ain’t enough people in here to see me making a scene. Harry pops a hand on my shoulder, tells me to settle down.
‘Whaddya mean? This lady’s calling you garbage pal, you don’t have to take that from her.’
He starts telling me how it’s alright, how we need the money. He doesn’t get very far. Miss Babbit leans over the table, interrupting Harry. ‘Inspector Ron, perhaps I wasn’t making myself clear. I’m not calling your “friend” names. I’m not trying to start something. I am merely pointing out the obvious fact that that is clearly one or more raccoons wearing a coat. Frankly, I don’t know how reliable you are if you’re apparently too stupid, drunk or crazy not to notice that, but I’m out of time. You are my last chance of catching my husband red handed, so ditch the rodents and focus or you won’t be getting paid. Understood?’
Harry’s still standing up. Convenient. I grab Harry’s hat from the table and pass it to him as I leave the booth.
‘You have yourself a nice night Miss Babbit. C’mon Harry, let’s get back to the office.’
I can still feel her staring at me by the time we’re halfway down the street. It’s only a few blocks back to the office, but I need a breather. I pull out a pack of cigarettes, popping one in my mouth and offering another to Harry. He shakes his head, pulling out his own pack. We stand there in silence for a little while. Those first few puffs don’t do much to take the edge off.
Harry tells me I didn’t need to do that, that we need the money and he would have been able to put up with it.
‘Of course I had to do that. Did you hear the way she was talking to you? Pretending she couldn’t even understand you and shit. What a prick. Nah. We need money alright, but we don’t need her money.’
Harry goes quiet again, thick puffs of smoke rolling off into the air. I’m struggling not to choke standing next to him. Harry’s got a bad habit of smoking more than one cigarette at a time. He’s trying to hide it, but I can just make out another two wisps of smoke winding their way up from inside his coat. He’s looking at me now. I can feel those small, dark eyes of his searching mine. His mouth starts moving, but he’s not saying anything, like he’s got the record player going but he don’t know where to place the needle.
‘Look Harry, you’re my partner alright? Hell, you’re more than that, you’re my best friend. You’ve got me outta more scrapes than I can count, and you’ve always had my back…’ Damnit, now my mouth is doing the same thing Harry’s was. Finding the right words is too hard sometimes. ‘I dunno, I just think you deserve better than whatever the hell that was. I’ve got your back too, alright? And don’t worry about the money. There’s a damn crime wave going on, a pair of fine PI’s like us aren’t gonna go hungry.’
Harry thanks me, patting my shoulder. I try and give him a friendly slug in the arm but he’s too skinny for me to hit anything. We douse our cigarettes and head back to the office. The echoing of my clunky shoes alongside the quick pitter-patter of Harry’s bare feet follows us all the way. It’s a comforting sound.