The text message from Lt. Callahan asked Blow to meet him. No time or place. Several typos in the message suggested Callahan was not up to speed in the fine motor skills of adolescent smart-phone thumbing.
“When? Where?” Blow texted back. His skills were almost as deficient, consisting of holding his flip-top antique in one hand and tapping out the message with the index finger of the other. Within seconds, Blow's phone vibrated and startled breakfasters in the neighboring booths at Marie's Restaurant with the tinny strains of Beat Me Daddy. It was Callahan. Blow snapped up the lid.
“Hate that damn texting crap. Keep hitting the wrong buttons.”
“So why do it?”
“Hate not looking cool.”
“You're shitting me.”
“No. Don't tell anybody. God damn kids here all do it like it's second nature. Don't hafta even watch their thumbs fly around on the fuckin' things. God dammit, Blow. Getting old sucks.”
“All these new deputies. I'm old enough to be their father. Hope to hell none of 'em are mine.”
“So what's the deal? You had breakfast? I just got here. Marie's.”
“Nah. Not hungry. I'm going nuts. Need you to meet somebody. Come on down when you're done.”
“Who's it this time? Female maybe?”
“You wish. Frankly, so do I. Eat up. We'll be here.”
The bully odor of smoldering cigar assaulted Blow's nostrils with the punch of a diesel-fueled Panzer battalion emerging from the winter woods around Bastogne. It hit him on the stairs leading to the second-floor detective bullpen and Callahan's tiny office.
Gack, was the word he suppressed while drawing on his thespian skill-set to project a simulation of worldly forbearance as he approached the office from which the choking fumes escaped. Once inside, his eyes squirted instant burning tears of extreme prejudice against the billowing blue-gray nimbus that hovered stubbornly over the top half of what appeared to be a human body seated in one of the chairs facing Callahan's desk. Blow's sidelong glance at Callahan, behind the desk, captured a helpless shrug of crisp white-shirted shoulders and a cryptic smirk on the hawk face.
Just then the cloud parted enough for Blow to discern the behemoth, balding head and barrel torso of the figure that proved indeed to be a human body. A six-or-so-inch-long brown tube, resembling a fattened Oscar Mayer Smoky Link with a light gray tip protruded from the head's beefy lips as the smoke dispersed into ghostly remnants that drifted sullenly toward the ceiling where an A/C return vent busied itself escorting the noxious guests away. Attired in a black pinstriped suit, gold-striped black shirt and platinum tie, the body struck Blow as perhaps a lost extra from the set of a Godfather movie or one of its ubiquitous imitators.
The head's blackberry eyes studied Blow without expression. Blow did likewise but offered a polite nod, which the head reciprocated. Blow turned to Callahan, eyebrows arched into question marks.
“Mr. Stone,” said the cop, pointing his chin at the stranger, “This is Frederick Himmler. He's an insurance examiner with Colonial Liability. Mr. Himmler, Joseph Stone, one of our leading attorneys. Please excuse the startled look on the poor guy's face.” The Godfather extra pulled the cigar from his mouth with stubby fingers and waved it in the air as his head rocked back and his features stretched outward in all directions from its wide-nostriled nose creating a look of maniacal merriment. His laughter, as well, low and graveled, came straight from Central Casting.
As suddenly as it started, the laughter ceased. “Have a seat, Joe,” Callahan invited, and Blow settled into the chair next to Himmler, who stuck the cigar back between his lips and extended the hand that had been holding it. Acting himself now, pretending to be the sort of manly man never averse to gripping a paw undoubtedly rank with tobacco-stained spit, Blow reached out and made the expected sacrifice.
“Have a cigar,” said the gravelly voice after the hands had withdrawn and Himmler's returned holding a stubby brown stick he'd pulled from his jacket's breast pocket. When Blow made no move to accept the gift but simply gaped at it, worrying that his face registered revulsion, Himmler added, “Cuban. Cohíba Siglo VI. One Castro's the finest. No one can afford them. Got these as a bribe from a client.”
Blow stared, then slowly shook his head. “Thanks, Mr. Himmler--”
“Freddie, god dammit. Call me Freddie. Akshully my name is Lenny Moskowitz. Himmler is my...what the hell you call it? Nom de goor or whatever? I use it on the job to intimidate, ya know? Hey, it works! I stay in character on the job, ya know, udderwise I would insist dat youse should call me Lenny. Here, take the goddam stick—that's what we fishanados call 'em, sticks—cost a fortune. You'll never have anudder one like it.”
Blow almost started to say he was allergic to smoke, but remembered he was playing a role. “Thanks, Freddie,” he said robustly, grinning, sniffed the “stick”, nodded appreciatively and and inserted it reverently into his breast pocket. “Later. Oughta be perfect with a good Cognac.” He snuck a look at Callahan's desk and saw an identical “stick” resting proudly on the calendar in front of him.
“So anyways, me and Carl here, the lootenant, we was just talkin' about the imposter who has been in town here pretending to be me. Frankly dis give me da creeps. It has never happened to me before. I do not know what to make of it, frankly. Look, Carl here has played the video for me, dat's on YouTube? It is abundantly clear to me from dis video dat dis here shooting was no accident. Clear as a bell. Murder. Ya know? Murder. And I don't do murder. Dat's Carl's job. All I do is prove dat dere was no accident. Den me and my compny, we are in da clear, ya know? No claim. No claim. No claim for murder. So I am outta here. It has been a real pleasure, gennimen. A distink pleasure to meet youse guys. An' I wish you all da luck in da world in solving dis murder. So...” He rose with surprising grace to his feet, extended his paw once again to Blow and then to Callahan, did the grips, turned, released a gray-blue blast from the priceless stick in his lips and was out of the office quick as a cat with its eye on a mouse.