Volume 1.3: 'A Flash of Pink'
Vix McKay was late, but Paulie Two-Tone wasn't and I wasn't and that was a start.
“Goddamn dames,” he growled, picking methodically at his neat, even teeth with an immaculate thumbnail. Packing heat on a hot day was making him edgy.
I checked my watch. She was definitely late.
“Can we roll down the window?” he muttered, lifting his Trilby to mop at his hairline with a handkerchief.
I didn't reply, though sweat was pouring down my back, darkening my shirt. Vix might've been a dame, but she was good with a shotgun. Paulie and I had our Smith and Wesson .38s today and though I wasn't as good a shot as he was, Vix was a genuine artist with buckshot. We needed her.
I craned my neck, looking over at the broad Shoreside Savings and Loan bank building for that bright pink ribbon she always wound through her brown hair. Nothing: just a few regular Joes going in and out, conservatively dressed and all uncomfortable in the summer warmth.
Paulie shifted in his seat uncomfortably: his suit was a size too small these days. He jabbed me with his elbow; I thumped him right back. He scowled.
“Should've sold the goddamn place,” he muttered again, staring irritably at a white ice-cream stall parked just outside the entrance.
I knew what he meant. Two-Tone, Vix and me owned a gin-soaked blues joint called Slinn's Club in an unfashionable part of town. There were bars that did better blues, there were bars with cheaper booze and there were bars with a better cut of client: we were all flat broke as a result. We couldn't even pay the entertainment this Saturday and we'd cut that back just to the boogie-woogie piano guy.
It was sad. It was desperate. And Vix should've been here. She was in this as much as we were: she'd taken the lead in knocking over those first two bank trucks we did.
“Goddamn broad,” he grumbled again. He was starting to annoy me.
“Calm down, Two-Tone,” I said, deliberately to rile him.
You'd think 'Two-Tone' was to do with his fancy shoes, but it wasn't. The nickname stuck when Vix and I saw him dance at our club for the first time. He wasn't tone-deaf, but he was close – hence Two-Tone.
“You start on with that 'Two-Tone' stuff again, I'll call you 'Fat Lip' some more, you lousy...”
Paulie was winding up to tear into me, but outside, the bank's armoured car had pulled up, bang on time. Four minutes from now, they'd be opening the vault to transfer some valuables to a branch down the coast. It was the perfect time for a smash and grab, but where the hell had Vix got to?
“New guy,” he noted, watching the strong, young man getting out.
That was enough for me: the situation smelled bad.
“Time to make tracks,” I announced, setting my hands on the wheel. “This ain't right.”
Paulie grabbed my shoulder hard. He didn't know his own strength.
“How much bread do we owe Will the Kid?” he said.
I shrugged tightly. Will the Kid was the local loan shark. He'd been very helpful in setting up Slinn's Club, but a lot of his loans were coming due, carrying a lot of interest between them.
“Total...about ten Gs,” I said. “We owe half at the end of the month.”
Paulie picked nervously at his teeth again. I think he'd forgotten it was so much.
“What've we got in the kitty after we knocked over the Shore Bank truck?”
“Maybe two,” I conceded, biting at my knuckle anxiously. “Most of the take went on the Club.”
No matter how hard I looked up and down the street, I couldn't see her pink ribbon anywhere. She'd not been worried as Paulie and I had left the Club this morning. She'd been singing away to herself like money wasn't a worry, like we weren't all going to get whacked by Will the Kid when we didn't pay up. Now she wasn't here. What were we going to do?
“Listen,” Paulie said, noticing my nerves. “If we don't do this now, we're all sunk, but we've got no problem here. We've cased the joint a dozen times; the Feds don't even know who knocked over those bank trucks so they're not looking for us.”
“Really?” I said, turning back to him.
“On our wanted posters, it's got these really woolly descriptions. Tall, male, dark hair – that kind of thing.”
“How much?” I asked, starting to smile. Better infamous for bank robbery than watered down gin. Or being found face-down in the river one morning.
“Five thousand apiece for information leading to arrest. No dead or alive stuff because we've been good boys so far.”
And a girl, I thought distractedly. And a good girl.
Paulie tapped the barrel on the window to focus my attention. I looked at it, looked at him and nodded. There wasn't time to wait for Vix. Paulie put his pistol back into his pocket; I reached in my own and tightened my sweating fingers around the grip of my gun.
We stepped out of the car and everything went wrong.
The ice-cream man pulled a Colt out of his cart and ducked down behind it. The ordinary Joes all ducked behind the bank's pillars and walls at once, pulling out their own hidden pistols. All those guns levelled at us and someone might've shouted something, but I didn't hear it. I froze; Paulie did the same.
They weren't gentle after we dropped our guns: they knocked us both to the tarmac so our arms could be cuffed behind our backs. Police cars screamed up from side streets and incomprehensible things were bellowed in my ears by red-faced officers. When they pulled us upright, Paulie grinned widely for the assembled popping cameras, showing off those gleaming teeth, but I kept looking for Vix's pink ribbon.
What had she been singing as we'd left that morning? It'd been a blues number we'd heard the night before. “Time for a change,” she'd trilled happily as she'd waved.
And there, in the back of a police car, I saw it.
A flash of pink.