Adam Christopher - Empire State - Mr Ripley's Older Read Book Choice For January 2012
“’Rad’ is my kind of name, is what,” said Rad. He didn’t bother looking up at his assailants. The masks and hats were a great disguise. Kooky. Instead he stared ahead and dabbed at his bottom lip with a bloody handkerchief.
The first goon’s shoes moved into Rad’s field of vision, black wingtips shining wetly in the cast-off from the streetlamp just around the lip of the alley. The rain had collected in the punch pattern on the shoes and each step threw a fine spray, some of which collected in the man’s pinstripe turn-ups. Rad figured it was all part of the disguise, the unfashionable shoes, the unfashionable suits, the unfashionable gas masks. The name of some annual affair near the end of the year that was all about ghosts and candy and weird costumes itched at the back of Rad’s mind, but he couldn’t remember what it was and the thought slipped away as he tried to grasp it.
The goon bent down and the gas mask came into view. Two circular goggles in a rubber face, single soup-can canister bobbing over where the mouth would be. The goon’s voice was clear as a whistle despite the business that sat between his lips and Rad’s ears, but echoed in the soup-can like it was coming out of a radio set.
“What do you know about nineteen fifty?”
Rad pulled the handkerchief away and looked at it, then moved his jaw like he was chewing toffee. His teeth were all there, so he was happy. A fat lip he could live with. What he really wanted was a drink, something strong that you couldn’t buy, not legally anyway. He tongued the gash inside his mouth and the pepper-copper taste of blood filled his mouth again. That wasn’t what he had in mind.
“That’s the second time you’ve asked me that, pal,” said Rad. “And for the second time I’m gonna say I don’t know about nineteen fifty. If you’re looking for street directions then there are nicer ways of going about it.”
The gas mask disappeared upwards and Rad shook his head. He felt his own fedora shift against the brick wall behind him. At least he’d kept that on during the fight.
Not that it was much of a fight. One minute he was walking down Fifth, next an arm pulled him out of the light and into the alley, and after just one question a one-two landed with some success on his face, and he was sitting on the floor with a bruised tailbone and a wet backside and a cheekbone that alternated between needle-pain and numbness.
They weren’t after money. Once on the ground, the first goon – a tall, wide, no-neck, who seemed to be doing everything for the entertainment of his friend who just stood and watched behind his black goggles – grabbed his wallet, and together the four glass eyes stared at his ID for a while before the card and wallet were returned to Rad’s inside coat pocket. This was no mugging. It was planned, calculated. They were professionals. The fist responsible for Rad’s aching face was on the end of a trained arm. The crazy get-up wasn’t something you could pick up downtown. They’d collared Rad for nineteen hundred and fifty somethings. Nineteen fifty what? His office was five-A, thirty-four, Fourth Street. His home was five-B. Rad ran through addresses, locations, places that people in unfashionable suits and strange masks might have an interest in. No dice.
Published by Angry Robot - 5 Jan 2012