Continued from here:
Thomas McMahon had heard once, when he still lived out east, that supposedly one of his fellow reporter had told a mutual acquaintance that his laugh was the kind of thing only a mother could love. He’d also heard that the same writer thought he was an arrogant fool. He’d made sure to increase the volume of his laughter as well as his conversation around that reporter from that point on.
As far as he was concerned, nobody was going to tell him how to act around anything, and certainly not a miserable milquetoast like that other fellow. He’d long forgotten his name, but he remembered the look of envy and disgust stamped on the other’s face when he grandly announced one day that he’d been offered a job in San Francisco.
He knew what would await him there, and he knew what that pinched little puritan was thinking. He was going to take great pleasure in going out to prove him right on all counts.
He’d paid good money for this evening and had been well taken care of – he was a recognized client, played the part of an upstanding citizen well, had not protested the charges having been slightly increased (demand would result in such things, and the economic times in the country were unsettled for many), and had taken to the excellent champagne with gusto. He loved his drinks and had something of a knowledge of wine, which the mistress of the house approved of.
“Not many here, even here, m’sieur, in the City, appreciate these differences between vintages.” She’d mentioned her real name once only, when on a dare from some of his fellows he’d applied for and received her personal services, a memorable evening if an expensive one. Otherwise she was Madame DuLac, and nobody would expect to know more.
“Why thanks, Madame.” He sensed rather than heard his laugh, it was so unconsciously a part of him now. “Damned if I know where these fools who I have to cover have the balls to say they can talk about any kind of wine. I’ve been offered apple cider as champagne and horse piss as beer.”
“M’sieur McMahon, you are a bit familiar tonight.” Her look was warning; though the hall was now fairly full with the buzz of low conversations as other men talked with DuLac’s newest recruits, her reputation for keeping a clean house extended to the talk in it, no matter how quietly delivered.
“Beg y’pardon, Madame.” McMahon raised his glass to the sign on the opposite wall that clearly read “VULGAR TALK IS NOT ALLOWED.” “A rough day, y’see, but I won’t bother you with those details.”
“You are forgiven, m’sieur.” Her smile was as genuine as he figured she would allow; he knew her reputation as a tough customer and knew that at least one of her attendants near the front had just escaped a murder charge a few years back. He approved. Soft people in all walks of life bothered him, successful ones always had something to show for it and the means to back it up. “But does this mean…”
“It does, yes.”
“Very good.” She raised her hand and an ancient butler, who rumor had it was a relative of DuLac that had reached the point where he no longer had the capacity to trouble her girls in any way, appeared. “Edouard, kindly escort the m’sieur to his assigned room.” She turned back to McMahon. “She will be along shortly.”
“Merci.” It was one of the few French words he knew and he took care to exaggerate his drawl when saying it – it was a role he liked to play as much as she enjoyed hers. He left the room knowing that a few might glance at him, but that most were similarly engaged in their own preferred levels of acting, rather than being content to be an audience.
Why else be there?
She had gone, but not without a generous tip. McMahon knew he was starting to push what he could afford for the evening but felt expansive and had appreciated her work. More than that, she had laughed at his jokes and seemed pleased by his own abilities – a marvelous job all around. He believed almost nothing she had said but felt confident that he knew how to excite even a professional, and that he could tell the signs. Even the most clichéd boasts and showers of praise had a little core of truth, something he never doubted.
Above all, bless her soul, she had not dallied too long. He appreciated the feeling of her against him for a little bit – he supposed most men would – but he had paid both for companionship and some solitude, and was enjoying the second half of his time.
He had not used this room before, to his knowledge – it was one of the more well-appointed ones, and believed that perhaps he had been somehow promoted in DuLac’s eyes. Regular clients had to have something new to look at, and not just among the girls. There was a window with a heavy curtain, but after she had left he had stepped from the bed briefly to stretch and open it to let some air in, then returned to enjoy a little coolness to bathe over his sweat.
In the room next to his was evidence of another satisfied customer, from the sound of it. He idly wondered which one it was he had seen tonight – he sounded comical, bellowing. Surely one of those heavy-set ones that he had not recognized, guessing them to be from out of town – a farmer from the Valley, a merchant from Stockton perhaps. If he were of a mind he could imagine the blackmail possibilities – ask a few subtle questions here and there, see which upright citizen had left his small town to go the City ‘to see what we can learn from the newest innovations in banking’ or somesuch excuse, figure out which God-fearing wife had been left behind to tuck in their children and pray for his safe return at their homely bedside while he busied himself with pleasures he would never expect from her. Or maybe even want.
The bellowing ceased and McMahon was sure that from the room upstairs there was a sudden burst of low laughter. So he was not the only eavesdropper. Well, at least he never had to see what was going on, or even contemplate the idea of it. This was not that kind of a house, thankfully, and he wasn’t sure he’d like to see the other kind in detail.
He sat up in the bed and looked over at the mirror with its gaudy frame that filled much of the opposite wall. He supposed it was there to excite a certain kind of customer but to him it just seemed amusing, a chance perhaps to perform on another stage. He contemplated his features at a distance, the tangled curls of hair, the beefy cheeks and neck – he was glad of that, for it matched his physique, something that had surprised more than a few people in the past when out on his work. It had also helped when those people had sent along others to dissuade him from continuing in said work – he bore some scars, but had inflicted plenty of others. Any time that had led to further complaints, he had simply to talk to the right friends in the police and the matter was taken care of.
His was a good life and he reaped the rewards.
In the room next to him was the sound of snoring, followed soon after by the door opening and closing harshly. McMahon laughed a bit. He suspected that payment had only covered so much and one of the attendants was going to be summoned. Well, let the fool be thrown out. He wanted his taste of France, he had it. Let him explain to his wife that the bruises on his nose were from accidentally running into a pole in the fog.
Well, thought McMahon, reaching for a cigar in his pants pocket, if he only came here on his trip, at least she won’t have to ask why she’s got the clap in a few months.
DuLac did run a very clean house.
“Tommy, how are ya?”
“I’m good, Sergeant, been a night of fine work.”
Sergeant Forster’s laugh was even more boisterous than McMahon’s – grating, McMahon had to think, but he wasn’t going to tell the sergeant that. “Get all you paid for?”
“And more. Whatever DuLac does to train those girls is high quality.” McMahon grinned, another cigar in his mouth as he leaned against the night desk.
“You can’t afford that on a newspaperman’s salary, though, McMahon, don’t give me any cock and bull story here. How’d you pay for it?”
McMahon had to laugh in turn. “Been going there for over a year now, Sergeant, and my money’s always good. They know me.”
Forster shook his head in admiration. “Well either that rag of yours makes a lot more than it deserves or you just keep a cut out of all the robberies you report.”
“I’m an honest man, Sergeant – my cut out of those goes to you.”
It went on. McMahon enjoyed the banter, heavy-handed, true, but on both sides. He knew he was no brilliant wit, and he knew that the more friends among the police the better. Whenever he met a new reporter talking about ‘progressives’ and ‘reform,’ he made sure to keep his distance – the editors would let the tyro crusade for a bit, maybe even name some names, and then the political bosses would drop a line, send over an off-duty officer to whatever rented room or garrett such a creature preferred, and the tone of the stories would change, sometimes radically so.
It was all part of the game – a little bit of complaining to satisfy the ‘honest’ citizen, a phantom McMahon had yet to encounter in the flesh, then some bending to keep all the other interests happy. McMahon didn’t gamble if he could help it, but preferred to play to win.
After more talk Forster said, “Well, Tommy, ya shoulda been here earlier tonight. Had to go out on a call after a couple of our boys saw a broken window at this one place, but by the time I got there most everything was already taken care of. One of your guys was there too.”
McMahon shrugged. “I don’t get to cover every story, I don’t want to either. My editor knows that. So what happened, or should I read my paper in the morning?”
“Far as we can tell, burglary that became murder. Some older coot lived by himself, one of those guys that doesn’t seem to have any business, just spends his cash. Pretty poor job the killer did breaking in – window looked like it had tried to be forced first. Probably woke up the victim to see what was going on, looks like there was a fight –” Forster pantomimed a slashed throat. “His desk had been broken into, so there’s the burglary.”
“Make a good story tomorrow if they got a good writer over. Remember his name?”
“Olson, I think.”
McMahon made a face. “Eh. It’ll be all right. Half of what will run will be from our editor anyway.” He picked up his hat. “Gotta get home for some sleep, Sergeant.”
“All right, Tommy, take care. Want one of my boys to go with?”
“Nah, not tonight. Some fool on the street decides he wants to mess with me, I’ll settle his hash.”
Forster’s laugh was louder than ever. “Yeah, only the cranks and the drunks will try it with you. Goodnight!”
McMahon nodded his farewell as he left. The fog was thick but he could make his way back blindfolded, and he wasn’t disappointed to both see a passed-out man and hear what sounded like a mack threatening a girl within twenty paces of the station.