The rain is coming down hard. I stumble past the pawn shop, past the tattoo parlor, turn down the dark narrow alleyway till I get to Mama Bel……. It isn’t there! My blood freezes. I look around. It was here only 45 minutes ago. Now……it’s gone! Did somebody steal it? There’s most likely blind rats scuttling about my feet, but I can’t see any. I can’t see anything. The darkness is sucking me into a void of nothingness, like the universe has collapsed in on itself and left me a shivering, muttering wreck. I take a deep breath, try to collect my thoughts. Be rational. Nobody steals a building. But there was something strange about that place, the phone call, the kooky dame talking about auras, her unflattering clothes. No, gotta think clearly. I decide to retrace my steps. I walk back down the alley, back out on to the street. I look to my right, the direction I’d walked from. Then I look left, there’s another tattoo parlor a little further down the street. I walk past it and turn left down the dark narrow alleyway to Mama Belles. Good thing I know how to remain calm in a crisis, a lot of folk would have gone crazy back there.
I ask to use the phone behind the bar. I call the operator. The operator sounds cute, maybe 30, heavy Chicago accent. She seems to be flirting with me, but I ain’t got time for that. She says she can’t give me any information on who phoned the number earlier. Another dead-end. I take my bourbon for a walk over to the pool table. Cutie winks at me, then pots the solid three.
“I figured you’d be back” she says.
“Something tells me that maybe you know more than you say you do and something else tells me that maybe you better start talking. Tell me about Mama Belles casino, the one that went bust.”
She gets up close to me, so close I can smell her perfume and feel her breath on my face. I’m thinking she’s gonna kiss me. I’m about to say “not here, not now, not like this” but there’s no kiss. She whispers “alright, alright. I’ll talk. First I need a drink.”
She disappears to the bar. I see her saying something to Mama Belle. Mama Belle nods her head, some kind of sense of relief sweeps across both their faces. She hands the winking pool girl a bottle of Rebel Yell and a glass. Winking pool girl walks back over to me with a heavy stride and plenty of liquor. She leads me to the darkest corner of the saloon. She flicks a switch on the wall and a wooden panel slides across silently, revealing a dark alcove of some type. I step inside. The room is lit by a neon sign propped against a wall. The sign reads: ‘No Vacancy’. She walks towards me. This time she’s gonna kiss me for sure. Her left arm stretches out over my shoulder, her face close to mine, I can smell her make-up. I draw both of my hands up to her head, brushing her hair back from her face to create a clear pathway to her burning lips. I blurt out “you sure are beautiful.” But there’s no kiss. She flicks a switch behind my head and the wooden panel door closes silently, and slowly. She sits down, opens the bottle, and pours herself a drink. I notice she has a bracelet on her wrist made out of guitar strings.
“What kind of cheap punk buys a pretty dame like you a bracelet made out guitar strings?” I ask her.
“He ain’t no cheap punk. He used to be one of the finest guitar players in town.”
“Used to be.”