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Simon motioned with the skillet as if he were ready to take another swing at the voyou he had downed. I felt the weight of my own man buck underneath the chair as I pressed its stretchers into his chest and abdomen.
I returned to the Corsican on the floor, leaning the chair a bit onto his throat to remind him where everyone stood. “You were saying?” I goaded him.
“You beat our friend last night.” He didn’t sound tough now, but more like the man-child he was, complaining about a playground grudge. It stood out in contrast to the semi-professional shakedown tactics they had used entering the cafe.
“Really?” I raised my eyebrows in mock surprise, as if I had beaten any number of people last night. “Which one was he?” I asked, hoping to get a name.
Surprisingly, Balaclava didn’t fall for that. Instead he tried to spit, but with the chair’s weight on his windpipe he just covered his lips in more saliva.
“OK.” I nodded, trying to appear understanding. To confuse the mercy on my face with my actions, I pushed down on the chair’s rear stretcher again, putting much of my weight onto his gut. He groaned ardently, trying to suck in as much air as he could even as his guts squeezed up towards his diaphragm. “So your friend got his feelings hurt and sent you after me? You don’t think I should talk to him about that?”
More spittle now. I couldn’t tell if it was defiance or him just trying to talk around what the chair was doing to his insides. “He wouldn’t be such a bitch about it.”
In reward for having finally said something interesting, I let my weight off him. “Then how did you know where to find me?”
Balaclava stared at me, the uncertainty apparent in his eyes, trying to decide if giving up this information would be a betrayal of whatever imaginary code he claimed to abide by. I made to lean on the chair again, which helped him make up his mind. “Some flambeur was in a car behind. Said he’d seen who did our friend and gave us where to find you American.”
I was so intrigued by this I nearly sat on the dumb ass. The only person who had seen me beat on the Corsican was Gaspard. Although, anyone who had been watching the security feed before we switched it off could have deduced what was going to happen without much trouble. To be sure it was one and not the other I asked, “What did he look like?”
Balaclava took another moment to do an internal evaluation on where he stood on the map of his murky ethics. The weight of the chair helped move him along to, “He never got out of the car, but I could see the suit he was wearing, so I thought he had come from the casino.” I leaned a bit more, so he continued, “He had a beard and dark hair with gray. Older, lots of wrinkles like crags on his face. Big white teeth.”
Not much to go on, but it might be enough. I stood up and lifted the chair off him. “Whoever he was, he lied to you. Your friend was bothering people at the casino and it was my job to take care of him.” I considered asking about the girl the Corsican from the casino had mentioned, but if Balaclava wasn’t willing to give me a name, he wouldn’t give me anything else, even if he had it. Instead, I leaned forward so me and he were looking each other in the eye. “You understand? I’ll let this go, but if you bother this man,” I pointed to Simon, “the casino owners will take an interest.” Like many casinos, the one in town had a lot of shadowy rumors around it, so I invoked those for Simon’s protection. I didn’t see a reason to go into specifics.
Either it worked or the interrogation was intimidating enough on its own. Balaclava nodded with only a hint of resentment, which was to be expected of any young man who had just gotten throttled. I stood up and swung the chair off Balaclava. I gestured towards the door in the same polite manner I would have used for a too-drunk patron at the casino. Balaclava rubbed his throat, his eyes still smoldering with anger while Simon menaced the standing Algerian and Fatty with his deadly pan. I waited, internally cagey, wondering if one of them was stupid enough to try anything again. Externally, I tried to project a facade of infinite patience even as I wanted to hit each of them again for having made me waste my breakfast. But I didn’t have an appetite anymore, anyway.
Simon walked over to stand behind me as the voyous limped out. The lack of backward glances gave me some assurances they weren’t going to have an inadvisable attack of courage.
After they had disappeared somewhere into the world beyond the cafe’s tall windows Simon bent down to pick up his cigarillo, relighting it. When enough time had passed that I was as certain as I could be the morning wasn’t going to have any more strange occurrences, I said to Simon, “Sorry about that.”
Simon puffed gently, then shrugged, all fatalism. “How were you to know?”
I thought about the Corsican and the gambler who had followed him out. Simon was right. There was definitely too much going on that I didn’t know about.