"And that's Whistling Eddie, a legitimate businessman," I said as Harrigan chuckled, "this is Aristotle, his associate," and then I pointed to Harrigan. "And this is Detective Jim Harrigan of the Los Angeles Police Department."
Harrigan said, "Just think of me as Jim Harrigan, concerned citizen."
"Now listen," I said, "I don't know where the meet is going to go down yet. I have to call and then get instructions on where to go. Max and I will take the jewels in one car and the rest of you need to follow in another car, but just not too close."
Eddie looked wary but walked over to the checkout counter and laid the case of jewels on top.
"Okay," Eddie said as he popped the clasps on the leather case and opened the lid, "there's an assortment of jewels in here. All fake but good quality reproductions. The diamonds won't cut glass but maybe it'll fool Gallagher long enough for us to pull off this suicide mission."
"Look," Max said, "I really appreciate everyone doing this."
"Who the hell are you?" Eddie asked.
"Sorry," I said, "this is Max Dolan, the girl's father. And this is his friend Pete Nelson."
Eddie saw Harrigan and almost swallowed his own tongue.
"Hiya, Eddie," Harrigan said.
Eddie looked at me, "You didn't say you were bringing the heat in on this, Randolph."
"He's not here as a cop, Eddie. He's here as my friend and as a man who's trying to save the life of a little girl."
Aristotle looked at Eddie and said, "Look, boss, I ain't too keen on a Johnny Law bein' here either, but we need all the help we can get against Duncan Gallagher. Y'know?"
Harrigan said, "I won't even look in the backroom, Eddie. How about that?"
I called the flower shop and Aristotle told me that Whistling Eddie wasn't back yet but probably wouldn't be much longer, so I went back to the table and Harrigan and I had a quick meal.
We got back to the flower shop just after 8 pm, which meant we had a little less than four hours to meet with Gallagher. I called Pete Nelson's apartment to make sure he and Max were still there, then went to pick them up. By the time we got back to the flower shop Eddie walked in with the case of fake jewels...
"Barbara, I'm going to do everything in my power to save Katie and Max. Even if it costs me my life."
"Jake...I don't want anything to happen to you either."
I smiled. If I got out of this alive I was going to take her someplace special.
"A lot of people have tried fitting me for a wooden overcoat and I'm still here. Don't worry. I'll let you know the instant we have Katie secured."
I heard her breathe a premature sigh of relief.
"Thank you, Jake. And please, be careful."
"Always," I said as I hung up the phone...
Barbara answered the phone.
"Jake! What's going on? Max called and said you went to see Duncan Gallagher and that he had Katie. Is she okay?"
"I didn't see her but I'm sure she's okay. Gallagher isn't going to do anything until he has his hands on Max and the jewels."
"Max said Gallagher wanted those jewels back but Max sold them ages ago. What are you going to do?"
"We're working on something. We have to meet Gallagher before midnight to turn over Max and the jewels."
"You're not going to let Gallagher hurt him, are you?"
"We are going to save her, Jake," Harrigan said. "Together."
"Jim, you know you're like a brother to me, don't you?"
He shook his head, "Ah, get outta here, Randolph! Don't go getting all sentimental on me or I'll punch you in the face!"
I smiled. That was Harrigan speak for I feel the same way.
"I need to call Barbara at the orphanage and then we can head to Eddie's and see if he has everything ready."
I went to use the payphone while Harrigan ordered a cup of coffee.
My head was spinning in a thousand different directions...
"I tell you something else, Jim. If anything happens to Max before this is over I'll adopt Katie myself."
I could tell by the look in his eyes that that surprised him. It surprised me too.
"You want to be a father, Jake?"
I looked out the diner window. The evening was slowly starting to build up momentum as the sun was running out of steam. The bright faces that had been on the street just minutes before were starting to take on dark and sinister shadows.
"I don't know," I said. "I just know I have to save her."
"This is my last case, Jim. I've got to get Katie back safely and then after that, I'm packing it in. I don't need to do this for the money. I've got plenty of money."
Harrigan nodded, "You may not need to do it for the money, Jake, but you told me sitting right here in this booth a little over 24 hours ago that you needed this job for the adrenaline. What are you going to use to replace that if you give up being a private detective?"
"Katie's life being in danger has cured me of craving adrenaline."
"Then it'll just be us?" Harrigan asked.
"Well," I said, "You, me, Max, his friend Pete Nelson, and Eddie and Ari."
"I guess that will have to do," he said.
"You know, Jim, this is my fault."
Harrigan said, "No it isn't, Jake. It's Dolan's and Gallagher's fault. All of this is because of a beef between those two idiots."
I shook my head, "No, my arrogance did this. I think I can just rattle anyone's cage, smack people around, do whatever the hell I want and there'll be no consequences. And now a little girl's life is in jeopardy."
"How in the hell did you get Whistling Eddie to help you? That guy would charge his own mother for a ride to the airport."
"Aristotle convinced him."
Harrigan chuckled, "Now that I can believe."
"They should be at Eddie's flower shop by 8. I'll go get Max and we can all meet there. Then I'm supposed to call Gallagher and find out where the meet is."
"I better call the precinct..." Harrigan said.
"No!" I yelled, cutting him off. "Gallagher said he has ears in the L.A.P.D. If he gets word I've talked to the cops then Katie's dead."
I left the flower shop and hightailed it to the Bluebird. It was a couple of minutes past 6 when I got there and Harrigan was already sitting in our usual booth. I figured he'd crack wise about me being late but he looked just as concerned as I was.
"Did you see Gallagher?" Harrigan asked.
I nodded, "He's got Katie."
"He wants Max Dolan and the case of jewels that he stole seven years ago."
"You said you found Max but didn't he sell those jewels?"
"Yeah. But I'm working on that. With Whistling Eddie."
I smiled and asked, "How long will it take you?"
Eddie was going toward the phone, "A couple of hours."
It was almost 6 pm. I had to meet Harrigan at the Bluebird Diner and let him know everything that had transpired.
"Okay," I said, "I'll be back here at 8 to pick it up. Is there any chance the two of you would come with me when I take the jewels to Gallagher? I'm sure I'm going to need a couple of extra guns."
Eddie started to speak, presumably to say no, and Ari said, "You got it, Randolph."
I turned back and looked at Eddie and Ari. They'd always been a team that worked together but standing there staring at each other they now looked like adversaries.
"How the hell am I going to get my hands on a case of jewels by midnight?" Eddie asked as he put his hands up in the air.
I shook my head, "I don't know, Eddie. But you know a lot of con artists, do you not? Could you at least get your hands on a case full of fake jewels?"
Ari smiled as Eddie said, "Now that I can do!"
Eddie chuckled, "I don't got to do anything, Ari. But what is this about, Randolph?"
"Duncan Gallagher pinched a little girl and is holding her for ransom. I need a case of jewels by midnight or she's dead."
He laughed out loud, "That's bad arithmetic, Randolph. Little girls are a lot easier to come by than cases full of jewels."
I shook my head, "I knew you were a weasel, Eddie, but I didn't think you were that heartless."
I turned to walk out and Ari yelled, "Boss! We gotta help him! It's a little girl's life we're talking about!"
I walked back over and Ari said, "I was trying to get hold of a friend of mine that knows a jeweler. I thought he might be able to help us but I couldn't get in touch with him. The boss should be back soon. He'll know what to do."
As if on cue the door swung open and Eddie came whistling in. He saw me and said, "And my day was going so well! What d'ya want, Randolph?"
I started to speak and Ari cut me off.
"Boss, there's a kid that's been 'napped. You got to help Randolph."
"I never did like that bastard. He gives the underworld an even worse name than it already has," Ari said as he climbed down off the crate. He went to the phone behind the cash register.
"Lemme make a call, Randolph. Don't be in earshot."
He didn't have to say it twice. I stepped back over to the front door and looked out at the evening that was rapidly descending over L.A. I was so worried about Katie but I had to keep my mind on what I was doing.
After a couple of minutes Ari yelled, "Randolph! Over here!"
"The boss ain't here, Randolph. Should be back soon but I don't know when."
"Dammit!" I yelled.
"What's goin' on?" he asked as he continued arranging the flowers. They looked like peonies.
"I'm in a jam. There's a little girl who's been kidnapped and if I don't show up by midnight with a case of jewels she's dead."
He stopped arranging the flowers.
"I don't like people who hurt kids," he said in a way that made me believe it. "D'ya know who kidnapped the girl?"
"Yeah. Duncan Gallagher."
Ari shook his head, "That ain't his style."
"It is now."
He beckoned me over to him. He was chomping on the pathetic remnants of what must have once been a mighty cigar. The stubble all over his chin pointed to someone who wasn't able to find their razor that morning. And maybe the morning before either.
"Hello, Aristotle. How's the flora these days?"
He smiled and wiped his little hand off on his shirt and stuck it out. I shook it.
"Business slowed down a bit after Valentine's Day but it'll pick up at Easter. What can I do for you, Randolph?"
"I need to see Eddie. And it's urgent."
I once played poker with Ari for seven hours, fortunes shifting back and forth between us. But by the time the sun came up I wondered if my name was even still my own. I couldn't even see his little head on the other side of the table from all the chips he had stacked up in front of him.
I stepped into the shop. The heady aroma of flowers flooded my nostrils, almost taking my breath.
"Randolph!" Ari yelled as he looked up from arranging some flowers. He was standing on a wooden crate that was turned up sideways...