"Name?" A man built like a brick outhouse blocked his progress.
"You don't need to know my name, but I am here on the recommendation of Styles."
"Enter." The large man moved aside, his expression blank and glassy in the gloom. He held back a thick velvet curtain and allowed the man in the pinstripe suit to pass.
Sizzling jazz filled the smoky air of the illicit den behind the curtain. The man made his way between the crowded tables to an empty table near the stage. Dancing girls skipped and wiggled in time with the band. The man named Styles sat two tables away, surrounded by oversized goons in matching suits. The man hung his black overcoat on the back of the chair and sat down, placing his fedora on the table.
"Get you anything?"
A red-haired girl appeared at his elbow, clad in the same powder blue outfit as the chorus girls on stage. She held an empty tray at an angle designed to deflect wandering hands.
"Just a coffee will suffice, thank you." The man in the pinstripe suit smiled.
"Ya ain't a regular here, are ya?" The girl raised an eyebrow.
"No, you could say that. I have been a frequent visitor to Chicago over the years, although this is my first visit to this establishment."
"Are you British?"
"Mostly." The man in the pinstripe suit winked.
The girl peered over her shoulder before leaning in close.
"I don't wanna speak out of turn, mister, but I got a bad feelin' about tonight. You seem like a nice guy...maybe you should try the coffee house down the street."
"I shall be perfectly safe here, my dear, but I appreciate your concern all the same. As it happens, I am here for work purposes."
"Are you a cop?" The girl straightened up and threw worried glances from side to side.
"Not at all, I assure you. Now, I prefer my coffee black and without sugar, thank you."
The girl nodded and threaded her way between the tables.
The man in the pinstripe suit sat back in his chair and watched the band. Music fascinated him, and he often wondered what direction his life might have taken had he chosen to pursue such a career. The thought made him grimace; his job was his life, and not one he had the luxury to choose, or leave.
The waitress reappeared with his coffee. She put the cup on the table, evidently amused that someone would order coffee and actually just want coffee. The girl turned to leave, and the man reached out to grasp her wrist. She stared down at him.
"I would not normally do this, but I happen to share your bad feeling about this evening. Perhaps it would be wise for you to leave early. I am sure your mother would be glad of your company tonight."
She opened her eyes wide, and nodded. The man patted her hand and released his grip on her arm. She darted across the room and disappeared through a door near the bar.
Moments later, the large man guarding the entrance tumbled down the stairs and landed in a heap on the floor. The man in the pinstripe suit retrieved a silver pocket watch from his waistcoat, checked the time, and smiled. Four men raced down the stairs and clambered over the twisted body of the guard. They brandished tommy guns, and the staccato song of their bullets drowned out the music of the band.
The entourage surrounding Styles rose to return fire, and two men squeezed out retaliatory shots before they fell backward, crimson flowers blooming on their white shirts. The man picked up his cup and took a sip of coffee. The men with tommy guns advanced into the speakeasy, forcing back the panicked throng of drinkers. Styles cowered behind a large bald man with a revolver, but more gunfire cut the bodyguard down. The man in the pinstripe suit took another sip of coffee. A stray bullet thumped into the table before him, sending splinters in all directions.
Two of the band members cast aside their instruments and pulled out shotguns. The man in the pinstripe suit stared – he hadn’t seen a Browning Auto-5 in ten years. One of them shot Styles, while the other took out two of the tommy gun boys.
The man sat his empty cup in its saucer, and stood up. Silence reigned and the dust settled over hiding patrons and dead bodies alike. The man in the pinstripe suit pulled a pencil and a small notebook from his breast pocket. He tapped it in the air like a grotesque conductor, counting the bodies strewn across the floor. He checked the number again, and made a tally in the small notebook.
He put on his fedora and picked up his overcoat. He picked his away across the room, smiling at the shaken survivors he passed.
“I’d say that it might be wise for you to leave now. You’ve escaped this time, but I shall see you all again. Some sooner than others.”
He climbed the stairs and strolled out into the cool night. The wolf bark of sirens filled the air as he opened a nondescript black door across the alley, and disappeared into eternity.