jerry looked uncertainly at the front door of chuck borgia’s fine food and drink emporium.
the street behind him was dark and deserted, and the emporium, though its lights were on, seemed
he glanced back at terry, but she just gave him a what are you waiting for? look.
jerry pushed open the door.
there was no sign of a doorman or bouncer or any kind of greeter in the small dark entryway, but there was light at the end of a short corridor and they could hear voices. they sounded like voices from a radio or television.
there was a glass door marked “cloakroom” on their left but there was no light on behind it.
jerry and terry moved carefully down to the end of the corridor.
they found themselves on a wide night club floor. it was lit up. not too brightly, but lit up.
the tables all looked empty, although there were tables along the walls in the shadows that could have been occupied.
there was a raised bandstand, also unoccupied. and bare, except for a tall standing microphone.
but there was a bartender, and one man seated at the bar. neither of them noticed jerry and terry right away.
“that’s chuck borgia,” terry whispered to jerry. “the guy sitting down.”
but the bartender and chuck borgia were not alone. there was a large round table just to the right of the bar, and four men in suits and a woman in a black evening dress were seated at it .
there were looking, through a cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke, at a large television set suspended above the bar. the voices jerry and terry had heard were coming from the television.
chuck borgia looked up from the drink he had been staring into and saw jerry and terry. he pointed at them and the bartender turned around.
the bartender was about six foot six and had a broken nose. “place is closed,” he announced.
terry stepped a few paces closer to the bar. “it didn’t say so outside,” she said.
“that’s as may be,” the bartender answered, “but it’s closed. what you see here is a private party. to which i do not believe you are invited.”
chuck borgia waved at the bartender. “i’ll take care of this, donny.”
jerry got his first good look at chuck borgia. unlike the four men at the round table, who were all wearing blue or gray suits and sober ties, chuck’s husky frame was clothed in a bright orange suit with padded shoulders, a red and black striped shirt with a high collar, and a white tie with a ruby tiepin. he looked about forty years old, but his hair was done up in a high pompadour like a juvenile delinquent’s.
he addressed jerry in a friendly manner. “what’s that uniform you got on, son? you some kind of soldier?”
“he’s a spaceman,” terry said. “just back from the furthest depths of the great unknown.”
“you don’t say so,” chuck borgia replied amiably. he took a cigarette from a flat pack in front of him and tapped it on his wrist. “and how about you, sweetheart? are you back from the great unknown too?’
“she’s a cab driver,” the bartender said. “i seen her around.”
“that’s what i am,” terry agreed.
one of the men at the table - the smallest one, with the biggest cigar - said something to chuck that jerry and terry could not make out. jerry thought he heard the words “patriotic” and “another”.
chuck laughed. “you might have a point,” he told the little man. he finished lighting his cigarette, and looked at jerry again. “make yourself at home, kid.” he pointed to his right, where the bar curved back away from the round table. “sit over here, where you can see the screen.”
jerry moved around between chuck and the table, and terry followed him.
“what about her?” the little man at the table asked chuck.
“what about her?’” chuck replied. “i suppose she drove him here, she can drive him back, ain’t that right?”
“that’s right,” terry answered, as she took a stool on the other side of jerry, leaving him between her and chuck.
“unless you want to drive him home yourself,” chuck added to the little man, and a couple of the other men laughed.
another man, a tall man with a long neck and a small head, said something in the little man’s ear. jerry thought he caught the words - “have too many witnesses”.
“don’t mind maury,” chuck told terry. “he’s a lawyer. i pay him to be suspicious.” he turned to the bartender. “give them what they want. on me. it’s a private party, after all.” he smiled at terry and jerry.
“um - i’ll have a draft beer,” jerry told the scowling bartender.
“ginger ale for me,” said terry.
the woman in the evening gown laughed. “at least they are not abusing your hospitality, chuck.”
“no, they look like good kids, “ chuck agreed. “so what brings you here, young man? you just happen to drop by? you came to see the big fight? the fight of the century? live, all the way from stalingrad?“
the television had been on through all the palavering - although nobody had seemed too interested in it - and jerry finally looked up at it. it showed a boxing ring. two fighters - little guys, probably featherweights - sat in their corners. the referee was speaking into an overhead microphone.
“that ain’t chicago jimmy kelly, “ said terry, looking up at the screen.
“you’re right, it’s something from the undercard,” chuck agreed. he looked up as the two small fighters left their corners and advanced towards each other. “but i see you are familiar with our hometown hero, miss.”
“yes, i am very familiar with him,” terry answered. she tok a sip of the ginger ale the bartender put in front of her.
“but you know,” chuck said to jerry, “you could have seen the fight just about anywhere in town. with the wonder of modern television. so why did you come here?”
“he could have seen it from outer space,” said the long-necked man.
“that’s right, judge, he could have,” chuck laughed.
“he didn’t come here to see the fight,” said terry.
‘hey, hey, let him speak for himself. you don’t want to let a dame do your talking for you, kid,” chuck said to jerry. “that is one of the worst habits you can get into. so why did you drop by, at this late hour?”
jerry thought for a few seconds. “it’s a long story,” he said, “but i’ll get right to the point.”
chuck and the others waited.
“it’s about my uncle - stan murphy.” jerry looked at chuck.
“stan murphy,” chuck repeated. “why does that name sound familiar?”
a deep voice emerged from the round table, from the biggest man there , a big gorilla jerry immediately decided must be chuck’s bodyguard. “that was the guy that that took the fall for gunning down packy miller.”
“the poor fellow who was set up,” added the long-necked man that chuck had addressed as “judge” , “who was set up by - .“ he hesitated.
“by red fuller,” the woman in the evening gown finished for him.
at the name “red fuller” they all fell silent. it seemed to jerry that the temperature in the place dropped about fifty degrees.
the voice calling the undercard fight on the television seemed to echo off the walls.
“and lopez connects with a left!”
chuck and his friends all stared at jerry.
“is that right, kid?’ chuck finally asked, almost in a whisper, “you came to see me about red fuller?”