Chapter 9

The cops took their sweet time picking up Mr. I-Don’t-Know and Mr. Where’s-My-Lawyer while we sat there, Kalli doing most of the talking while I hung back and texted with Wagner furiously, trying to look like someone with a real job that a cop wouldn’t want to actually deal with.

“Come on,” Kalli said, waving me down the block, “they’re not going to let us in tonight, so let’s get something to eat and come back later. A car’s gonna sit on the spot here in case someone tries something.”

I didn’t feel good leaving the apartment, even for another few hours, so I called Helen Ramnee as we strolled, let her know that there was definitely a lead or two going on that would lead us to, if not the comic, then at least some juicy details for her to put in the book. It seemed to help her un-frazzle, which made me feel a little bit productive as we strolled up to a no-name diner a few blocks away. “I saw this place as I parked,” Kalli said noncommittally, walking in and, like every other place in New York, started talking Greek to the old man at the counter. A big fat grin split his face as he responded, and I rolled my eyes.

My former boss and big-shot PI company owner still couldn’t help showing off that she used to be a Greek girl from Queens working in a diner through high school, hoping one day to, at the very least, not end up with four ungrateful kids and a church schedule to rival March Madness. Every diner in New York, she’d tell me periodically, was either owned or run by Greeks, and it almost always worked out for her. A few bucks off the tab, an extra slice of pie, something like that.

Of course, it also still helped her cultivate one of the best information networks in New York City, because who knows more than a nosy diner cook who overhears every cop and late-night weirdo at the counter talking about work?

“So what makes you think that it’s in there?” she asked as we sat down, the same slighty-dingy plastic drinking glasses of water and ice in front of us that you find in every diner in New York, a smiling older man bringing us coffee cups. Kalli and him exchanged some words in Greek before she looked back at me, putting the now-collapsed asp and her cell phone on the table by the sugar and salt-n-pepper shakers.

I rubbed the back of my head. Those kids might have been punks, but the one had definitely thought far too long and hard about punching someone in the back of the head, because I was still a little dizzy. “Who knows. At this point, it’s the only lead I’ve got, and honestly I feel a little bad that it’s taken so long to get anything besides a faint tie-in to some weird old organized crime urban legend.”

The coffee was awful, even with the four spoonfuls of sugar I poured into it, but the harsh dark burn of it helped ease the throbbing in my head and steady my breathing as my side recovered a bit. “I mean Jesus Christ, I was looking for a piece of paper, I got all this cash from these people and I got almost nothing out of it. They’ll get even less if I don’t find something.”

She didn’t say anything, checking her phone as I talked. “What was that text you got before?”

“Hmm? Oh that, the guy I’m working with, said he found some weird clue or whatever. He says it’s tied into the whole mob thing, so I guess we’ll see whatever it is when he gets back tomorrow.” I scrolled through my phone. “Something about the ‘Hawkblade’ fan club and fan prizes with clues? He’s a terrible texter, I can’t really tell. It can wait.” I pushed away from the booth. “Whatever, I think I just want to go home at this point, the apartment can wait.”

Kalli shook her head. “Fuck no, Ben. Are you kidding me, after getting me to come all the way down here and then probably break that stupid wannabe-gangster’s arm?” She stood up too, tossing a few dollar bills down on the table.

“Let’s go see what’s inside.”

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