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The Rainbow Affair - McDaniel David

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The Rainbow Affair
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The Rainbow Affair - McDaniel David
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"Down went McGinty to the bottom of the sea,

Dressed in 'is best suit of clothes..."

THE BASS CLEARED HIS THROAT resoundingly and waved an empty mug, while the first baritone called for a refill on his mild 'n' bitter. Over the babble of conversation the occasional thonk of a dart into a board could be heard, and the blue haze of the atmosphere made the private booths across from the bar seem as distant as mountains. The floor was littered with sawdust and dropped aitches.

Heavy yellow fog pressed close against the leaded windows, as if staring jealously in at this island of roistering humanity that had shut out its noxious chill. Wisps of it swirled eagerly in as the oaken door swung open; they writhed about the thin legs and tweed-covered arms of the new arrival and slowly, reluctantly, dissipated in the cozy warmth which rose to greet them.

There was an almost imperceptible pause in the conversation, and a slightly lowered tone of voice as stubble-chinned faces turned from lifted mugs of frothing brown brew to flick an unobtrusive glance at the newcomer. His bowler hat, neatly brushed and impeccably blocked, was alone among the crowd of curly bare heads and flat caps; his gray suit was quite obviously from a very different section of the City indeed. His tightly rolled umbrella and thin briefcase gave the impression of a junior clerk who had somehow strayed onto an east bound tram at the end of the day's work instead of the westering one that would have taken him home.

Only his face gave the lie to the rest of his appearance. If he had ever been a junior clerk, it had been years ago. His eyes were mild, but utterly cold; his lips were relaxed, but razor-thin. His entire face was studiedly expressionless, and gave the feeling that it would remain so watching a nude woman, a Pacific sunset, a train wreck or a dying child.

He stepped lightly, almost mincingly, towards the bar, and the barmaid came to him. He leaned forward and murmured something the nearest listeners could not hear. The barmaid shook her head, and looked at him suspiciously.

"Yer got the wrong place, mate. I think yer got the wrong name, too."

The man in the gray suit shook his head. "Both the name and the place are correct." His speech was as carefully perfect as his clothing. He glanced down, and a slim finger darted towards a puddle on the polished wood surface of the bar. He drew four parallel arcs - quarters of concentric circles - and looked at her again. "I want to see Harry."

"Just 'oo d'yer think y'are, anyway?" she snapped, somewhat shaken, as she swiped a rag over the spilled beer, adding in a lower tone, "An' why should 'Arry want t' see yer?"

The stranger reached inside his overcoat and pulled out a flat case. It flicked open with his hand shielding it; the nearest watcher got only a glimpse of something black. This sharp-eyed gentleman, later questioned by curious contemporaries, claimed complete ignorance.

"'Twarn't a buzzer," he said, "'n' 'twarn't a pitcher. Just some kinda card." His curious contemporaries shook their collective heads, and had more ale.

The barmaid, however, did not shake her head. She looked down, then up, and her face grew tight.

"Not 'ere," she said, eyes darting left and right. "Narks an' busies, 'alf of 'em." Her exaggeration was forgivable; she added immediately, in her lowest tone, "Through the private bar, an' down the 'all. Second on the right, marked Private. Wait there."

And she was off with a flourish of skirts and a cluster of mugs to fill.

The man in the gray suit replaced the flat case and followed the muttered directions as if it were a ritual. The door of the private bar swung shut behind him, damping out the lessened chatter of the common room, and a beaded portier in atrocious taste tinkled as he pushed through it into a narrow, dimly lit hail.

The door marked Private was not locked. Inside, a sagging sofa, a ring-stained coffee table and a scarred desk, along with a few ill-assorted chairs, made up the total furnishing. Quite uncharacteristically, the walls were of fine dark oak paneling halfway to the ceiling. The visitor noted this, and his eyes narrowed slightly. He took a chair near the door, facing the unoccupied desk. He sat stiffly forward on the edge of his chair, his thin briefcase balanced upright on his knees, his umbrella hooked over his left arm. He did not move for some three minutes.

Neither did he move when a section of the paneling slid aside near the desk and a short, dark, stocky man stepped out. He was dressed in a style that could only be called "natty," but his face was marked with a vicious scar which ran from the bottom of one eye straight down the cheek past the corner of the mouth to his chin. He paused in the secret doorway a few seconds, studying his visitor, then grinned wolfishly.

"'Ow d'y'like it?" he asked proudly. "One o' the advantages y'don't find in modern office buildings." He pulled it closed behind him, and the edge was barely visible. "We took this place over from an ol' Chink used to run a pipe joint in the basement. Not many like it any more." He slouched into the padded chair behind the desk. "War took out a lot of 'em in this part o' town."

He paused and regarded his visitor intently for a few seconds, then said, "Well, if y' don't like small talk, what else can we do for ya?"

"Are you Dingo Harry?" The voice was cool and flat.

"They call me that sometimes; sometimes they call me worse." He grinned wolfishly and winked. "Expect y' know about that, too."

The man nodded. "You're the Head Surgeon in some quarters. But we are not interested in you. We are interested in a friend of yours - a man whom you occasionally represent. You know of whom I speak."

Harry registered ingenuous surprise and puzzlement. "I've done a spot of agenting from time to time, but nothing lately. I 'andled a nice line o' dancers for European, African and South American spots..."

"But the white slave racket isn't as profitable as it used to be. Surely your time is too valuable to allow its waste in such games. You know whom I represent; you know whom I wish to contact. I gave his name to your barmaid; if she did not relay it to you along with a description of my identification, she should be discharged."

"Now don't get your feathers ruffled. Let's just say I like to be careful. My friend is a very solitary chap; likes 'is privacy. 'Ates to 'ave salesmen beatin' at 'is door. 'E likes me to sort of 'andle 'is business in town, as it were. An' I 'ave 'is complete confidence. Anything y' want t' say to 'im, y' can say to me."

"Under the circumstances that would not be practical. I have been directed to deal only with him. Surely you know of the organization behind me; you know that we do not involve ourselves lightly with petty criminals..."

That touched a nerve. Harry's face hardened and be leaned forward over the desk, palms flat to either side. His voice was soft. "You seem to 'ave a slightly bent view of things, mate. I've 'eard some about you, and nothin' I've 'eard 'as mentioned anything near as big as our jobs. What 'ave you done in the last four years that people are still talkin' about? If that's petty, I'd like to know what you consider big!"

"Your friend's jobs are indeed far from petty. But it was his job, not yours."

Harry subsided slowly, leaning back once more in his chair. He did not answer.

"The only reason I am here," the visitor continued, "is that your friend has placed you quite firmly between himself and the rest of the world. It is to him and him alone that I would speak."

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