Fin’s Fatal Flop
By Kaye George
Fin thought the new girl was gonna be okay. Some of them worked out, some didn’t. They usually came to The Flirty Flamingo from bad places– drugs, prostitution, abuse. Mostly they were runaways. He couldn’t picture the new one, Charn, running, but she sure was trying to escape something.
Looking at her now, sitting at the other end of the bar sipping a ginger ale, waiting to go on stage, he saw how smooth her pretty face was, how relaxed her small, thin body sat.
When she came in the door two weeks ago, her face was scrunched in fear. She held her shoulders high and tight, folding in on herself to try to make herself invisible, even smaller.
“Hey, sweetie.” Fin was beside her in a flash. He didn’t miss much of what went on in the bar. “You need some help?”
She cringed and shrank away from him, but he kept talking, soft and calm. “You’re okay here. We’ll take care of you. You need a place to stay for awhile?”
She nodded, tears beginning to flow over her young, softly curved cheeks.
“Follow me.” He avoided touching her. The kid has been hurt and didn’t need to be spooked when she was so close to finding a hiding place.
She trailed behind him to the back office where Joe, the bartender, kept the books and stored some of the more expensive liquors. Fin unlocked the door and stood aside. Giving him a questioning look, she hesitated, then crossed the threshold and stepped into the small room.
It took some time, but Fin eventually learned that her name was Charn Jones. Maybe a real name, maybe not, but it’s what she told him. She’d left home a year ago to try to make it as a singer. She hadn’t gotten far before she picked up an admirer.
“I thought he liked me,” she said, her voice low, looking at her feet as she sat in Joe’s big leather chair, rubbing the smooth, worn armrests. “But he started being mean to me. Then he wouldn’t let me go anywhere. When I got to go out sometimes, he’d follow me, not let me talk to anyone.”
“Do you have any family?” Sometimes, Fin knew, these girls had families that were worried about them. Sometimes they didn’t.
“My mother’s boyfriend left. She got a new one. She thought he liked me better than her, so she told me to get out.”
So, she didn’t have a family worth the name.
“You hungry, kid?”
She nodded. Finn told her to wait in the office and he went to find Alice. Alice didn’t go on stage anymore. She worked the bar part time and filled in where she could. Alice rustled up a couple of sandwiches and a Coke and brought them to the office.
“Here you go, honey,” Alice said. “You look hungry.”
Charn looked up at Alice and almost smiled. “I am.” She took a half a sandwich with the tips of her fingers. “Thank you, miss.”
Alice leaned down, a considerable distance since Alice was so tall and thin, wiry and tough. To Fin, she was perfect. His gaze usually softened when he looked at Alice. She’d been with him for a few years, both of them kicking around the bar, Fin providing security and odd jobs, Alice tending bar part time. She hadn’t been on the stage in a long time.
“You take your time,” Alice said to Charn. “Eat as much as you want. No one’s gonna rush you.” Alice straightened up. “If you want to talk to me, my name’s Alice. I’m a good listener.”
Alice and Fin had that talent in common, that ability to listen, to really listen to a person. Fin’s mother had wanted him to be a priest. Instead, he wound up listening to confessions in a stripper joint.
On her way out the door, Alice looked at Fin. “Phineas—” she was the only person in the world who call him Phineas “—have her come see me later. I’ll get her some clothes.”
After Charn looked a little less like she might drop from hunger, Fin ushered her up the back stairs and showed her to a room with a bed and clean linens, bath next door. “Get some sleep, kid. We’ll talk later.”
Charn stayed, became one of them. After about a week, she worked up an act. She had a golden voice and strummed a mean guitar. Joe had a couple three of them stashed somewhere, left behind by other performers. Most of the girls at the Flamingo did either pole dances or stripteases, or a combo, but Charn, who should have been named Charm, because she did that—charmed the drinkers into throwing money at her without taking her clothes off. Her sweet voice and her innocent, clear blue eyes tore the bills right out of their hands and the bills flew onto the stage. Alice had sewed Charn an outfit to accentuate her best qualities and go with her personality, pink and ruffly and feminine, a little risqué, with feathers in strategic places, like all the Flamingo costumes for the other girls.
Fin moved to the seat next to Charn. She didn’t shy away or flinch. She even looked at him and smiled. Progress, he thought.
“How’s it going?” he asked. “You’ve been here two weeks. You think you want to stay?”
Alice was helping Joe behind the bar and she lingered, listening to the conversation.
Charn looked at both of them. “Yes, if I can. Do you think I can? Am I bringing in enough money?”
Alice patted her hand, resting on the counter beside her sweating glass of ginger ale. “This place does all right. Don’t worry about it. If you need to stay, you can.”
A slight frown wrinkled Charn’s brow. “I don’t know that I need to, but I want to. Is that okay?”
“It is, darlin,” Alice assured her. Alice moved on to take a couple of orders at the middle of the bar where two men had just come in. Not regulars, Fin noticed. New guys. One was small, skinny, young and pimply. The other one had some heft on him, a big burly guy that Fin might have a hard time taking down if he needed to. They had come in a few minutes apart and sat with two stools between them. Not together, obviously.
Fin was at the wrong end of the bar. At the other end, he could see the door and the whole room, so he wished Charn luck and rose to move back to his customary spot.
“Mr. Fin?” Charn looked a little worried. “Can I talk to you later?”
“Sure thing, kiddo. Catch me after your set.” After he sat, he watched Charn eyeing the two new guys at the middle of the bar. His attention sharpened. That was fear on the young woman’s face. He kept his eyes on the men while Charn performed. They both left after her set, after a trip back to the loo for the bigger guy, then out the front door.
Fin talked to her later and she said she thought she saw someone she knew, but she was mistaken.
“You sure?” Fin remembered how they had both looked at her. Men who looked at the girls like that were sometimes trouble. They were both fixated on Charn.
“Yeah, it’s fine. No problem.”
The next night, Charn was off. The two men came back, this time within half an hour of each other. They each had a beer, then soon left. The following night, though, she was on again. This time, just one of them came in. He sat at the bar, following every move she made. He was the big, strong-looking guy. Long greasy dark hair and a stubble on his face that had gone too many days to look good.
He had hit the head before she went on and went back there again after she was done. When he came back, Fin followed him when he went out the front door. He gave the guy a few minutes lead time, then hit the sidewalk. The guy wasn’t in sight. Fin strolled to the narrow alleyway between The Flirty Flamingo and the pawn shop next door. Sure enough, the guy was loitering at the side door. It was used for deliveries and kept locked most of the time. Maybe he thought Charn would go out that way, but she was still living upstairs, above the bar.
Fin eased his back against the bricks at the end of the alley and bided his time. Eventually, the guy left. He came back almost every night for a week, but quit going to the alley after Charn’s show.
One night, after closing, Fin was in the office helping Joe count the take. Alice came in with a scowl on her face.
“We got another Peeping Tom,” she said.
The set up of the building had a flaw that would be too expensive to change. The public restroom was next to the dressing room the gals used, just off the stage. Periodically, a pervy customer realized it and took the time to carve a peephole in the wall.
“Damn,” Joe said, standing up and pushing back his chair, banging it on the file cabinet behind him. “I gotta fix another goddam hole.”
“Wait,” Fin said. “Let me try to catch the perv. I been keepin an eye on a guy and I want to see if it’s him or not. He should be in tomorrow.”
“That the guy looks like he’s mooning over Charn?” Joe asked.
“She says the guy she was worried about has stopped coming in,” Alice said. “Charn’s been telling me some things. She says she was turning tricks for a young, skinny guy. He was mistreating her and she got away, came here straight from him. She thought he’d been coming in here. But she decided his hair is wrong, she said. Her guy had red hair, kind of long. The one that came in has a blond buzz. He came in the same nights as a tough looking palooka a couple of times.
“Yeah, he stopped coming in. Palooka’s been back, though,” Fin said. “He was here tonight. I’ll check him tomorrow night and see if he’s the perv.”
“I checked up on both the new guys,” Alice continued. “The skinny one’s done time. Aggravated assault. Name’s Janis. Greg Janis. The other one, big guy, no record, if he’s using his real name.”
“What’s he using?” Fin asked.
“Get this. Lacey Jones.”
“I can’t comment on people’s names,” Fin said. His full name was Phineas Pudlow.
Joe chuckled. “I guess not. So, the new guys are Janis and Lacey.”
The Peeping Toms they’d had were never violent, but Fin considered what they did an assault on the girls. It was something done against their will, something personal. And creepy. But just because they’d never had to get physical with a peeper, didn’t mean they never would. Fin gave some thought to this one. He needed a plan.
When they had finished counting the take for the night, Fin had made up his mind about the big guy. “Joe,” he said. “If I have to tackle this guy, I’ll need some help. Big Lacey outweighs me by quite a bit.”
Fin wasn’t big and didn’t look tough, but knew how to move. He could hold his own in a lot of situations, but this might not be one of them.
“Sure,” Joe said. “I’ll put Alice on the bar and come back with you.” Joe was medium sized, too, but had once trained in the ring. Being black, he’d thought at one time that boxing would be his ticket to the good life. It didn’t take many punches for him to change his mind and switch gears. He worked his way up from washing dishes to bussing tables to serving to tending bar. Eventually, he was able to buy the one they all worked in now. But boxing had taught him a few things. He hadn’t forgotten them.
“You better bring Bertha,” Alice said. Alice always referred to Fin’s Glock, the firearm from his days on the police force, as Bertha. Fin didn’t usually carry it, but it came in handy sometimes, when someone needed convincing. People tended to be convinced by Bertha.
“And I’ll bring her friend.” Joe grinned. He always kept a .44 Magnum under the bar. In that neighborhood it wouldn’t be smart not to. Alice called that one “Dirty Harry,” but no one else ever referred to it that way.
The next night the skinny blond guy, Greg Janis, came in within minutes of the big mug. They both watched every move Charn made during her set. At the end of each number, when most of the mesmerized drinkers burst into applause and some even cheered, those two both sat stone-faced.
Sure enough, Palooka, aka Big Lacey, got up when Charn left the stage and headed for the bathroom. Fin was already sitting at the far end of the bar, next to the door that led to the hallway. He waited a half a beat before he pushed into the john. Big guy was in the stall.
“Open it up,” Fin said, rapping on the door.
“What the hell? I’m busy in here.”
Fin pulled a screwdriver out of his pocket, slipped it into the notch and unlatched the door. Lacey Jones was crouched, not on the toilet seat, but at the hole in the wall. He straightened up and started throwing angry punches in the confined space, hitting his knuckles on the metal side wall.
Fin backed out of the stall, ducking, and drawing the guy forward.
Joe had come in behind them. He stepped up beside Fin and trained his revolver on the perv. “Get outta my bar, and don’t ever come back,” Joe snarled.
Lacey’s anger left his face and his big body deflated. “I didn’t mean nothin. I’ll go.”
Just as I assumed, Fin thought. The peeper isn’t really physically violent, just a disgusting pervert.
Fin and Joe heard the screams before the guy got through the door. They shoved him aside and raced to the dressing room.
When Fin threw the door open, two half-dressed strippers were cowering in the corner, screaming, while the skinny, blond guy held Charn by her throat, choking the life out of her.
Fin and Joe wrestled him off her and to the ground. Joe pulled a pair of zip ties from his pocket and bound the guy’s wrists.
“That’s him,” Charn sobbed, her voice hoarse from the choking. “It really is him. I didn’t think it was.”
“Greg Janis? Was this the guy?” Fin asked.
“He told me he was Jay. That’s the only name I knew for him,” Charn croaked.
Fin whipped out his phone to summon the cops while Joe stood the skinny guy up.
Before Fin could finish the three numbers, he was hit from behind. His phone flew out of his hand. He fell to the floor, blood gushing from his scalp. He tried to turn over. A heavy foot planted itself on his back.
Joe let go of the skinny guy, reached for his revolver, now tucked into his waistband.
“I wouldn’t do that.” Fin recognized the voice of the peeper. He struggled to turn his head enough to see a Smith & Wesson semi-automatic .45 being pointed at Joe with a shaky hand. “She’s mine. I been lookin at her all these nights. She’s mine, not yours. Shove her over here.”
Joe focused somewhere behind the Palooka. Nodded. Threw skinny Janis to the floor and followed him down.
At almost the same instant, Fin heard the shot, felt the weight leave his back. Big Lacey Jones crashed, hard, to the floor. He bounced slightly, then lay still.
Fin raised himself on one elbow. Alice stood in the doorway with Bertha in her steady hand, pointed at the dead guy on the floor.
“I’ll call the cops,” Joe said, shoving little Janis into a chair, his hands zip tied uncomfortably behind him.
Fin got up and went to Alice, standing in a wide-eyed daze, still pointing the gun at Lacey. He gently took his Glock from her hands, laid it on a dressing table, and put his arms around her.
Alice held up well all the while she talked to the police. They weren’t inclined to take her in since her story was backed up by everyone else’s, including Greg Janis. Charn retreated upstairs as soon as she’d been questioned. She said she didn’t want any company, just needed to be alone that night.
After the cops left, their people taking the body and Charn’s attacker with them, Alice started trembling violently.
“Who knew,” she said through chattering teeth, “who knew that it wasn’t the felon, it was the other guy we really had to watch out for?”
“You saved my life, sweetie,” Fin said.
“Mine too.” Joe was shaky himself. “I thought the plan was for you to take your gun with you tonight, Fin.”
“I guess it was. At the last minute, I thought I wouldn’t need it. Lacey Jones didn’t have any history of violence. He was a peeper, for godsake. The other guy was the ex-con.”
“They were b-b-both dangerous,” Alice said, trembling in Fin’s arms as they sat in a booth in the empty bar. “You couldn’t have p-p-planned for that.”
“We sure could have. You could have taken your damn gun with you, Fin,” Joe growled. “We had a plan.”
Fin nodded. “Yeah, we did. My bad.” He gave Alice a fond look and a smile as her head rested on his shoulder. Inside, though, he ached. He knew what the weight of taking a life was like. Knew how it felt heavy on your shoulders, your heart, your soul. He caressed Alice’s thin shoulders and vowed to help her support the weight.
“You gonna give Alice a raise, Joe?” he asked.
Joe grinned at both of them. “That sounds like a good plan.”