The heavy black car eased slowly down the street. Fatty craned his neck left and right to inspect the houses as he steered the car. Beside him, Goon sat impassively in the passenger seat.
“Not the most upscale neighborhood, Chief.”, remarked Fatty.
“Don’t call me chief.”, Goon stared straight ahead.
“And don’t call me Boss.”
Fatty looked over at him. Goon stared ahead, his face expressionless. Fatty refused to turn away until Goon shifted and shot a quick glance at him.
“Ok, Chief. Where are we now? The building should be here somewhere.”
“Turn right, up ahead, not the next one, the one after that. It should be just around the corner.”
Fatty drove the car up to the corner and made a careful turn, coming to a stop just short of a set of steps leading up to a double door. Goon promptly undid his seat belt with a sigh. For a moment the two of them sat and peered at the entrance to the block of flats. The wood of the door had long ago lost its polish. Years of neglect and weather had stripped the veneer off the surface, with worn spots around the handle showing the lack of care. The glass on the left hand pane had a large long crack running from the top left to the bottom right where it ended in a splatter of shattered glass. Two small slivers were missing. The brass door handles hadn’t seen any polish for a while. The grime and dust of the ages had dulled the metal into a filthy finish.
They stepped out of the car, Goon heaving himself out with a whooshing grunt and inspected the building and the street in which they stood. The building was eight stories tall. The windows on the right hand side of the sixth floor were the only ones that were shut. They were also the only ones that were not in a state of abject neglect. On the 7th floor directly above the good windows, the window on the left was actually hanging by one hinge with the glass panes were missing.
Goon made a grunting noise. Fatty looked at him.
“You say something, Chief?”
Goon cleared his throat in a rasping, rumbling manner and spoke.
“Doesn’t look like anyone looks after the building. Are you sure this is the right address.?”
Fatty took out his notebook and flipped over the pages. He nodded.
“Yep, this is the place alright. I wonder why it hasn’t been condemned yet.”
Down the street, a group of children were sitting on the steps of another building, one that looked only marginally better maintained.
“What’s wrong with those kids? “, Goon muttered.
There was definitely something odd about the group. For one, they were not playing or talking. There was no movement from them. They just turned and stared at the two policemen with unflinching stares. The tallest of them was also the skinniest. He looked like an elongated ten year old. For a few moments both groups stared at each other. Then, casually and slowly, the skinny young man walked towards Goon and Fatty. Fatty sensed rather than saw Goon stiffen next to him. The rest of the group of children followed their leader, staying a step or two behind him.
The thin boy walked up to the car and slowly ran his hand over the bonnet. He peered into the car, ignoring both men with insolent and exaggerated deliberation. The rest of his gang stopped short of the car, watching warily as the gang leader sauntered up to Fatty, looked him up and down and stopped at Goon.
“What’s the matter, laddie?”, Goon was at his growliest best, “you never see a car before?”
The youth didn’t answer, but just stared at him. Goon stared right back.
“Yes. And you better watch it. You don’t want to be arrested for vagrancy and loitering.”
“What you here for?”
“None of your business, laddie. You just clear orf now, see?”
“You here to see the old hag? She’s batty.”
“I’m going to give you 30 seconds to clear orf before I arrest the whole lot of you for impeding an officer in the conduct of his duty.”
The youth took a step back and looked from Goon to Fatty and back again.
“Which one of you is in charge?”
Fatty said, “Now, look here, kid..”
Goon cut him off. He stepped toward the boy and his thick finger stopped 3 inches from the gang leader’s chest.
“You! Step away! You want me to arrest you for obstructing the law?”
Goon’s voice was firm and loud. His neck was thrust forward in a pugnacious display of authority. For a moment the big Detective Sergeant and the young boy stood frozen. Goon, a big giant, towered over the skinny lad. Fatty stepped towards the gang, who scattered and hastily beat a retreat. Goon and the gang leader were still staring at each other. Finally, the boy turned slowly on his heel and walked back to his gang, who had taken up station again at the original spot. They watched sullenly as Goon stood watching them. Then he turned and stumped up the stairs. Fatty followed, with his head turned to watch the kids.
Goon stopped at the door and asked “What’s the name of the lady?”
“Mrs. Miller. Been in the same flat for 54 years, she says. Must be in her 80s I think.”
Goon opened the door and stepped into a dark foyer. One lonely electric bulb hung from a wire high up in the ceiling, giving off just enough light to show the old oak staircase. Worn and creaky, one or two spindles missing, a couple cracked.
Goon looked up and asked “Which floor?”
“Sixth, I’m afraid, Chief. You’ll do fine. Take your time.”
“Don’t patronize me, young man!”
“Sorry Chief! Shall we go up and meet the lovely Mrs Miller?
Goon sighed and started up the stairs, with Fatty behind.