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Papers

She was older than most of the women in the speakeasy, but she carried it well. The black dress, short and snug, was daringly off one shoulder, though the shawl wrap hid everything. Her hair was entirely concealed by a cloche hat, but it was the jewellery that caught Sam’s eye. Pearl necklace, diamond broaches matching on the head pieces and scarf, nice bracelet and a wedding ring – on the right hand. He winked at the waitress to cover for him, smirked and began to thread his way across the room. Rich lonely widows were so very easy to gull, and oh, so profitable.

“What’s a classy lady like you doing in a joint like this?” he said, turning up the Irish charm as he slid into the seat opposite her.

“Just dropping in,” she said, and the English accent hit him like a dash of ice-water. “Are you Sam McManus?”

“Who’s asking?” he said, near hostile.

“I’ve got a message for you from David Kilgrace.” The woman opened her purse, pulling out an envelope for him. It was bulging.

Curiosity piqued, he slit it open, running his finger over the bills inside. A quick flick through confirmed it was enough to clear Kilgrace’s debts twice over. There was a letter folded inside as well and he flipped it out and read it.

“Bears to win – $50.” Sam smirked to himself. Gamblers never changed. He made a note in a small black book, tearing a strip out of the page and handing it to her. Some guys never learned, but then if Kilgrace had managed to hook a dame like this he didn’t need to. He gave her legs a once-over and whistled, more for her benefit than his. She really was too old for him. It didn’t matter. If Kilgrace was stringing her along, Sam would get all the profit eventually anyway.

It was the other request, jotted below the betting slip, that puzzled him.

“Tell him he’s square with me. For now.” She nodded, slipping the paper into her bag.

“Thank you. I’ll be back to collect the other items next week.”

“So where’s Kilgrace?”

“He’s…er…staying out of sight right now.” This was interesting. It sounded like the dame already knew there was something shady about her boytoy. It might be as well to make his own play now if he was going to make sure she bled dry.

“So, why’s a girl like you hanging with a guy like him?”

“Because I can move in the circles he can’t.” She leaned forward, eyes on his, and rested her chin on a hand. Her voice lowered “or if you prefer, I kin move in the coircles he kain’t.” The sudden shift to the Brooklyn accent made him jump, and he laughed. If she was a grifter, she was a good one. She had had him completely fooled.

“Where the hell did he find you?” She sat up, picking up her drink, and the upper crust English accent was back as if it never left.

“Straight off the boat, Mr McManus. You know, this really is remarkably good sherry.”

“Which boat?”

“Pick one. Will my papers be ready by next week?”

“For a lovely lady like you, anything.” He smiled, “but there’s just one tiny problem.”

“What?” she asked lightly. A less experienced man would have missed the quick tensing, but her hand did not move towards a weapon. Interesting. If she was not packing, she was either stupid or she had a few tricks of her own.

“I need a name,” he reminded her.

“Mrs. Susan Wells.”

“Divorced?”

“Widowed.” Her hand moved up towards her neck before she stilled it. Sam chuckled, betting that given a chance she’d have a locket out and the sad, sad, story of her husband cued up to loosen his wallet. “My husband was killed in action.”

“No kids?”

“None living.” Either she was telling the truth, or she was the best actress he had ever seen.

“And what was your husband’s name?”

“Matthew.” He did not bother to write it down. The short details list was easy to remember compared to some of the drink orders he got. “Do you need anything else?”

“No, that’s great.”

“Then I shall see you next week, Mr McManus. Unless you have anything on the jazz scene earlier I might want to catch.” She winked, finished the sherry, and walked out through the crowd.

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