Calling it humid never really described it, calling it summer was doing it a disservice, it was the kind of day that you had to peel your shirt from the chair and your back from your shirt. Like most days of it’s kind I did what most sensible human beings did, I found somewhere out of the heat and bought myself a drink, Watered down beer in a watered down bar with similarly surreal stereotypes right down to the leering kid behind the bar, complete with crooked smile. Years of chewing on that lip had given him an interesting profile, like he knew he was going to get caught and just didn’t know what for yet. The bottle in my hand felt comfortingly real, condensation on the outside and the stuff inside didn’t taste much better, but it was cold and it was wet and today that was enough. I heard the clicking across the stone floor of her footsteps, before I saw them. Bars like this didn’t have carpets, you fell in here you were probably already bruised before you hit the floor. She wobbled slightly as she moved, unsure of the heels or the floor I couldn’t quite figure she could have been anywhere from Forty to Fifty but the clothes certainly didn’t do much for her, a dark brown pant suit presumably designed to make her look professional, it hadn’t worked, her staggering little walk took her to my table, she had an unfeasibly thin mouth with eyes that counted pennies and status and which had obviously found me wanting in both. I wasn’t sure if it was a sneer or a smile it probably served her for both, she gave a little nod of her head to indicate that she was going to sit down; all she accomplished was in knocking another clump of blonde from the half tied mess at the back. “Good morning Mr. Raymond.” Her tone lacked patience, trying to let me know she was in charge, what of I hadn’t yet decided. I nodded in laborious way maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t I hadn’t decided yet. She looked at me like I just came off her shoe, “You know who I am?”
I said that I did, that I knew she was Mrs Chambers and that Mr Gilmore her employer had referred her to me. She reddened a little at that, I pretended not to see it and cooled myself with a little more of what passed in my bottle for beer. I waited for her to continue a little and eventually gave up and waved over the shifty kid with the bad smile. He ambled over in no real hurry, I asked if she was thirsty she indicated something to the kid about whisky and lemonade, I waved my bottle at him and he slunk off. “Phillip Raymond? Are you the real thing or just some joker with a gun?” She’d decided to be rough, I’d been roughed for real and she was about as scary as a wet dog in comparison. “I can’t say I’m not a joker but I don’t carry a gun and I am in a certain line of work.” She laughed without humour and replied, “You any good?” “Your Mr Gilmore seems to think so. Otherwise he wouldn’t have sent you to me.” She coughed and waited there for a while as if frozen while the guilty looking kid placed our drinks on the table, I drained the old bottle and popped it on his tray before sliding the new one closer to me. She didn’t even move towards her drink. I had had enough, “It’s too hot for games Mrs Chambers and I only agreed to meet you because I owe Bernie Gilmore a couple of times over, it’s either dangerous or complicated so he sent you to me. You don’t like the look of me or the fact we’re meeting in a place like this. That’s tough because you’re not the kind to visit my office and this is where I eat my lunch. Bottom line is though you’ve got a problem and Bernie thinks I can help, so tell me what you need or let me alone I don’t mind much which.” She sat there frozen, gloved hand over her mouth and against all reason her lips got thinner and whiter. “Mr Raymond I don’t much care for your attitude, in fact I think you might be quite the rudest man I’ve ever met!”
I had eaten a sandwich of roast beef with another beer to soak down the whisky and lemonade Mrs Chambers had thrown over me during her dramatic exit from the bar. I feared I hadn’t made a friend there; fun thing is I nearly never do. Not that I ever really felt the need for many of them.