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The exhilaration brought on by the quick aggression of the beating was already fading by the time we stuffed the Corsican into a car. He wasn’t received by the limo some of the casino’s more troublesome, but tonier, guests would get, but just a featureless black sedan. That told me that someone wanted to make sure he was far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to just walk the half kilometer or so around to the front door again. Whatever curiosity was picking at me about the Corsican only jumped up with this new bit of information.
I asked Gaspard if Aldritch, our boss, had ordered the car, but he had just shook his head and pretended not to understand, something the French are selectively good at. I clocked out shortly after that, punching out at the old card clock and hanging my blazer in one of the employee lockers. Feeling the customary self-loathing begin to fill the reservoir left open by the adrenaline of quick violence I decided I didn’t want to take that home to Sophie. Instead I started to walk, heading out a different exit not dissimilar to the one the Corsican had been dumped out of. I kept walking towards the port as the lights of the casino’s pyramid of glass faded behind me.
Walking in the April rain I thought about what the Corsican had said. Had he meant “my girl” and gotten it wrong with his English? Was it just the case of some rich debonair prick sweeping up some local girl away from her neighborhood beau? Or was the phrase “the girl” somehow indicative of her importance in some other way? I kept walking, getting colder and wetter in the reflection of the bay and shadows of the sailing yachts and cruise ships, wondering why I was letting myself get worried about it.
Eventually I headed home to a tiny apartment stacked on top of other tiny apartments, hidden away from the city’s main drag so the tourists and the rich wouldn’t have to see where the help lived. The elevator was out again, the shaft open and abysmal, nothing but a yellow sandwich board sign propped up in front of it to mark its malfunction. I shook the rain off my coat and headed up the ancient staircase, its subway tiles leading passed the lit and unlit doors of the other tenants. Some of the doorway lights had burned out and never been replaced, while others were doused by the tenants in some form of signal communication involving the local lottery or narcotics rackets. I hadn’t bothered to figure out which.
I slipped my key into the lock about the same time, I imagined, as the Sun was coming up, trying to be as stealthy as possible so as to not wake Sophie. The hat rack by the inside of the door had more personality than most of our neighbors and I tiredly said hello to it as I hung my coat on one of its hooks. I took my shoes off so as to not track any water across the tenement’s worn floorboards, fatigue causing me to wobble a little. Barefooted, I walked across the cold floors, passing through the tiny kitchen and by the small bathroom until I came to the open door of the bedroom where I stopped.
Leaning against the doorframe I watched Sophie half-sleep in the bed, somehow her blond beauty and fair skin seeming to be a perfect fit for the old brass bed frame and yellowed sheets. I smiled, unbutton my shirt and let it slip off me and onto the floor as I slouched my way over. I was beginning to doze off when Sophie spoke to me in the quiet lilting of her accent, “How was the work?”
“S’ok,” came my standard reply after a casino evening, but my sore hands and inexplicably heavy conscious made it into a lie. Not really wanting to bother Sophie with it, but selfish enough to want to unburden myself I continued, “There was some kid that I had to take care of. Skinny Corsican punk that upset some of the guests.”
Sophie cooed at that, wrapping a gentle arm around me. She always had more sympathy for me than the people I was paid to intimidate or assault. I guess after what I had seen her do, that wasn’t surprising. That was true in this case until I mentioned, “He was upset about some girl.”
Sophie’s body came fully awake then, stiffening with awareness. “He hurt a girl?” Her English had gotten better than my Italian while I was away, but she still sought clarity whenever her internal translations left her unsure.
“No,” I rolled against her, trying to hold her in place with the bowling ball of my head. “He was there because he was upset about a girl. Gaspard wouldn’t talk much about it, but if the kid got dragged into the holding room he must have been pestering some high roller.”
Sophie relaxed a bit at that, returning to her naturally soft state. Not completely satisfied, though, she ran a finger across my stubbled head. “Why would a man such as that bother a local boy and his girl?”
I still wasn’t sure the person in question was a man, but I didn’t bother saying that. “Sample the local flavor?” I shrugged, moving Sophie and the bed. “To take something from someone else? To prove that he could?” I found myself getting angrier as I thought about the alternative possibilities. In an attempt to keep that at bay I put my hand on Sophie’s thigh. It closed against the other. The wounds and surgeries had healed as best they could a long time ago, but Sophie would always be sensitive to any kind of acrimony, especially in touch, even if it wasn’t directed at her. Her experiences had left her particularly attune to anything that might transform into abuse. The Opinel knife in her nightstand was testimony to that.
“What happened to this boy?” I could almost feel her reaching for the knife as she asked the question. I had said all that I wanted to say about it but I knew there wasn’t any point in trying to avoid Sophie’s questions. “We roughed him up and then shoved him into a car. Probably got dumped somewhere out by L’Ariane.”
“Do you remember the registration number of this car’s plate?” She knew I would. I sighed heavily, feeling the bed sag.
“Give it to me.” Sophie moved herself out from under me with startling ease. “I will find out who it is and where they took him.” Wrapping herself in a shaw she continued, “And you will find out about this high roller.”
I already knew the answer, but I asked anyway. “Why?”
Sophie smiled the tiny, cryptic smile she always gave me when she knew she didn’t need to provide an answer to get me to do what she said. “A mystery is a mystery.”