I plod on with my interviews of timeless literary characters and find myself alone on the south side of Chicago...
It’s 2 am, windy, and a late summer rain is falling. Across the puddled street, buildings flash in time with the lightening and seem to tremble with the long roll of distant thunder as I enter Fred’s Coffee Shop and fold my umbrella. I glance at Fred who stands behind the cash register. He starts to wipe down the counter then points with his chin to the only patron in the place - a guy seated in the last booth, his back toward me. He’s enveloped in a white cloud of cigarette smoke. I know he hears my footsteps as I walk closer but he doesn’t turn. His rumpled hat, stained from the rain, rests on the table beside a half-filled ash tray and a half empty cup of black coffee. He doesn’t look up as I sit.
His drawn, shadowy face is entirely devoid of color.
Me: You Spade?
A cigarette dangles from his mouth.
S: Who wants to know?
Me: Tom Ulicny. I wrote the Lost Revolution.
S: Oh yeah, THAT Tom Ulicny. Freddy said you’d be stopping by.
Me: You know that smoking in here is illegal, right?
He takes a long drag and blows it out as he talks.
S: So’s asking stupid questions.
Me: It’s a nasty night and it’s a little late to be out just passing the time don’t you think?
S: It’s the middle of the day for me, friend. I’ve been here three hours now, working a case. (He stabs out his cigarette then turns to the window) See that room up there across the street - the one that’s lit?
I spot the window where a table lamp glows, its light diffused by wrinkled curtains.
Me: Corner room third floor?
S: She’s still up there. Still awake.
Me: Who is she?
He shrugs and turns back to me just as another roll of thunder rattles the shop.
S: Some broad, 28, a looker. She’s in trouble with the cops on a trumped up charge.
Me: She’s innocent?
He smiles and lights another cigarette.
S: She’s guilty as sin - killed her husband, tried to run off with her boyfriend. When the boyfriend found out about the killing he got scared - refused to go with her - smart kid.
Me: I thought you said the charges were trumped up?
S: They are. The boys downtown don’t know about the murder. They want her for a little altercation she had with one of their beat-cops. Her name’s Lola, and she’s got one hell of a temper - especially when she’s got a few drinks in her. (He shakes his head) I ain’t ever seen her sober.
Me: How did the boyfriend find out about the murder?
S: How do you think he found out? - I told him.
Me: Why would you do that?
The third floor light across the street goes out and Sam grabs his hat.
S: That’s two stupid questions - that’s all you get my friend. Thanks for the company.
He gets up, reaches into his pocket and flips a quarter down on the table. When he reaches the door, he puts his hat on, adjusts the angle and shoots a glance at Fred.
S: I don’t think you’ll be seeing me tomorrow Freddy boy.
Fred gives him a single wave with his work sponge.
Still in the booth, I watch as Sam Spade crosses the street and meets a woman with a suitcase standing under an awning by the building entrance. He takes the suitcase from her and the two of them walk off into the night at a casual pace as if it weren’t raining at all.
Sam was right, it was a stupid question.