Marshall "Butch" Armstrong
Sam Barton was disgusted. Sitting at the desk in his small rented office on the second floor of a run down two story building in the ‘not so nice’ part of downtown, he could smell cigarette smoke wafting up the hallway. He hated cigarettes. Using his custom pipe tool, he stirred the Latakia tobacco in his pipe, repacked it and lit it with a stick match. The wonderful aroma filled the room, effectively killing the cigarette smell. The smoker was a woman. He could tell by her foot steps. Light but with purpose, she probably wore high heel pumps. The kind that make a women’s calves look good. Her steps were far enough apart to indicate someone tall. Another plus. As she approached, he made up his mind that whatever she wanted, he would turn her down. He couldn’t stand cigarettes.
Sam knew she was coming to see him because his was the only occupied office on the second floor. He reached out and switched off the desk lamp, the only light in the room. She stopped in front of his door, her shadow casting against the frosted glass window from the light in the hall. She dropped her cigarette on the floor and Sam watched through the space under the door as she stepped on it, grinding it out with her shoe. Classy, he thought, with a note of sarcasm. With three quick knocks on the door, she waited. Sam watched her shadow. She looked at her watch, looked behind her, down at her shoes and back at her watch again. Nervous, he thought. Maybe in a hurry. Standing as quietly as he could, he slipped into his over coat, put on his hat and opened the door, making to leave.
“Oh!” she said, surprised. “Someone is here.” She was tall and slim, dark haired. Wearing a dark coat to protect against the rain, which never seemed to stop in this city, he could tell little else about her. “I, um, I’m looking for Sam Barton.”
Tipping his hat Sam said, “Sorry ma’am, I’m closed for the night. If you come back tomorrow, during business hours, we could speak then.”
“Forgive me,” she said quietly. “I wasn’t able to get here any sooner.” Looking up at him with doe eyes she continued. “But I really need to speak with you. It’s a matter of some importance.”
Feeling a headache coming on he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m sure it is ma’am but as I said, I’m closed. Maybe tomorrow.” Closing his office door he tried to move around her but she stepped up close to him. Reaching out with her hand she pretended to straighten his lapel.
Leaving her hand resting on his chest she said, “Please. I don’t often beg, but this is very important to me.”
Sam’s imagination got the best of him with the begging comment and he turned to unlock the door. “Alright,” he said. “I guess I can spare a few minutes.” And just to make sure she didn’t think she was getting the upper hand on him he pointed to the cigarette butt on the floor and said, “Would you mind picking that up please.”
Back at his desk, the woman sat in a chair in front of it. She delicately dropped the cigarette butt into Sam’s ashtray. Picking up the ashtray, Sam emptied it in the trash. She smiled at that and asked, “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
“But I can smell pipe tobacco. You must smoke a pipe,” she said, all her nervousness gone now.
“I do,” said Sam. “But I have a strong dislike of cigarettes. Sorry,” he said, without conveying the sentiment.
“I see,” she said. “Well, if you have a spare pipe, I’ll smoke with you.” The barest of smiles crossed Sam’s lips as he reached into his desk and took out a cheap pipe he had never smoked. Filling it with his Latakia blend and filling his own as well he handed her the spare and lit them both up. They smoked in silence for a few moments. She was a pretty woman, with the look of a 1930’s starlet. And she knew how to smoke a pipe. “I understand how precious your time must be, so I won’t keep you. I’ve had a break in at my house. Some things that are very important to me are missing and I’d like you to investigate.”
“Why not just call the police,” Sam asked.
“Well, I uh, I’d like this to stay out of the papers. You see my late husband was known to have some dealings that were not always, how should I say this? Not always on the up and up. Now that he’s gone and I’m on my own, I’d like to live a quiet life. The less media attention the better. My husband was Sylvester Gialone.” She held out her hand and said, “My name is Mary, by the way. Mary Gialone.” Sam new the name well enough. Sylvester Gialone was a gangster of the highest order. Very well connected in all the top crime families. He had been killed execution style about a year ago. Sam drew on his pipe and considered the situation. His first impulse at seeing her outside his door was to brush her off. He should have stuck with that plan. Messing around with crime families was not a good idea and he decided to tell her that and rush her out of his office.
Drawing on his his pipe again he said, “Look ma’am, I really can’t see…” As he said this, the door of his office burst open, shattering the window. Mary screamed and ducked the flying glass as Sam reached for his forty five in his shoulder holster. Three large men who Sam didn’t even hear coming down the hallway came through the door. They wore masks. One grabbed Mary by the arms and pulled her into a corner of the office as the other two went for Sam. One grabbed Sam’s pistol and bending it backward pulled it cleanly out of his hand. The other punched Sam so hard in the forehead that he saw stars. Just before he passed out he heard one of them say, “You were told not to go to anyone!”
The first thing Sam noticed when he came around was that Mary was still with him. They were in a room with blank walls and nothing but a sofa, for furniture. “Something you forgot to mention?” he said, as he rubbed his head. The pain was intense and he began to think about his line of work. He wondered how many more hits to the head he could take.
“Uh, yes, well I’m sorry about this. I didn’t intend for anyone to get hurt.” Mary’s eyes were cast to the floor. Sam had noticed the camera in the corner of the room and decided to make sure that whoever was watching knew that he wasn’t involved with whatever this woman was involved with.
“Look ma’am, I don’t know what this is all about, but I don’t want any part of it. You didn’t tell me anything and I don’t want to know. I’d like to make it to tomorrow, if it’s all the same to you.”
“You’re right Mister Barton,” Mary said. “You’re not involved, and I’ll do my best to make sure they know that.”
Resisting the urge to ask who ‘they’ were, Sam waited to see what would happen next. He didn’t have to wait long. Without any noise of someone approaching, the door opened and two of the large gentlemen from earlier stepped inside. They were still wearing masks. Quickly moving toward Sam on the couch, they grabbed his arms, lifted him up and stuffed a black sack over his head. “Look fella’s,” Sam said. “I think you’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t know anything about whatever this is.” Neither of the big men said a word as they pulled him from the room. They walked on either side of him for a short distance and stopped momentarily to open a door. The door led to the outside. Sam smelled rain, and car exhaust. He heard a train whistle and the sounds of train wheels on tracks going very slowly. Traffic on a street not far away was fairly busy for late in the evening. The cars he heard were going faster than normal city traffic.
A car suddenly came close and stopped. A door opened and Sam was escorted into the seat. Doors slammed and the car began to move. Two turns to the left and then a quick one to the right and the car picked up speed. They were on the interstate. They drove for about ten minutes without anyone speaking when Sam felt the car move to the right and slow down. They came to a stop, turned right and drove for about two minutes. The car slowed again and came to a stop. The door opened and Sam was moved out to the sidewalk. The two men walked maybe fifty feet with him and then both of them gave him a hard shove forward. Tripping over something on the ground he fell to his knees and toppled over on his right side. The two men ran back to the car. Doors slammed and the car took off with squealing tires.
Sam lay for a minute without moving. He heard normal city noises like a car horn and a dog barking. Sitting up he pulled the bag from his head. He was in an alley, as he suspected. The rain had stopped but the pavement was still wet and water was seeping through his pants. Getting up Sam brushed himself off the best he could and ventured up the alley to the street. Not recognizing where he was, he walked few more blocks until he arrived at University Boulevard. Hailing a cab, he rode back to his office. After sweeping up the broken window glass, Sam sat back and lit his pipe. Puffing up some good clouds of smoke he wondered just what the hell happened. He knew he should just forget about it. That idea could help him live a little longer. But could he do that? Could he forget what happened and move on. That was a good question.
To be continued…
Marshall Lee Armstrong enjoys camping, fly fishing, kayaking, painting, drumming and writing. He has published two books of poetry and writes a blog called "The Window". He is 58-years old, and has worked as a Rock Band Drummer, Electroplater, Chemical Process Technician, and Circuitry Manufacturing Supervisor. He is currently a Medical Lab Technician. He started smoking pipes in 1980.