And for a moment, the room seemed to whirl - Lance almost felt the need to reach out, grab the edge of the table, steady himself.
Annabel. God, dear Annabel. How long had it been? Ten years, of course. Ten years and one summer. She was as lovely as the day she’d turned to him in the rowboat, laughing, and handed back the ring -
Was that her son? Was that her son by this miserable son of a bitch?
“Nice family,” he said. He tossed the picture on the desk. He shook out a Lucky, lit it with the Zippo he’d taken off King Feature, the crime boss he’d beaten the day before. He squinted through the smoke at the stickup man, looking for some family resemblance. Anything that would say Brother, not Husband. “Nice lookin’ kid.”
“Yeah, well, it’s my sister’s kid. Her husband up and left ‘em last year. She’s been writing me begging for money. Says it’s been nothing but powdered milk and county-relief hash for the last six months. Bitch. Never could choose men. Gave it away to any -”
The thug hit the floor, spitting blood and teeth. Lance took the handkerchief off his blackjack, and knelt down to the thug.
“Listen,” he said. “Listen very carefully. I’m going to let you go for this. On one condition.
“Jevith Chrif! My fuffin mouf, you fuf!”
“Are you listening? Nod if you’re listening.”
The thug nodded, weeping.
“I’m giving you a week to find a job. Send all your money back home to your sister. If you don’t, I will find you as easily as I found you today. And I will kill you. Are we clear?” The thug nodded. “Now go.”
Two weeks later, Lance walked out of an alley on the North Side of town, the muzzle of his gun warm against his leg, an address in his pocket. Leaves blew from the park down the street. Autumn was coming. It couldn’t come soon enough.