The dingy smoke from Donovan's cheap cigarettes was cast aglow in the single lightsource in the claustrophobic little room and drifted around his chiseled face, though he artfully kept his eyes in the dark.
I remained silent, my wrists instinctively struggling against the duck tape that bound them to the back of the rickety little chair.
"You're not guilty, are you?"
My throat, longing for the familiar swish of whiskey much like my hand longed for the ivory grip of my 1911, felt like dust. I broke my silence.
"I've - cough - I've told you morons a thousand times. No. I'm not guilty. You've got the wrong guy. It's Thibaudet and his goons-"
"Then why are you running?"
"I can't tell you that right now."
I could tell Donovan was angry, angrier than I'd ever seen him. I wasn't scared of him, but Donovan was a big guy, and had at least 20 pounds on me. In case of a fight, he'd squish me like he just squished the embers of his odorous little cigarette on the dirt floor.
"Let's try a different tack, Howard. The money is behind the painting of Mr. Swenson, isn't it?"
"Damn straight it is. That painting is now on the back of a truck bound straight for Cuba. Stolen yesterday: the 6th of May, 1938. It's gone, Donovan. You follow it, they'll kill you."
Donovan slammed his fist down on the table in front of me, rattling the tire iron which was obviously there for reasons I didn't want to think about, at least not yet. "You thought you were being clever, didn't you!?" he yelled in my ear. "The phone number of your accomplices was a fake. There are no accomplices, are there!? You're alone in this robbery! It's all fake! FAKE!"
"DAMN you, Donovan!! I had to do it. They said they'd kill Lottie if I didn't. I can't let that happen."
I bit my lip, resuscitating the little pain that had first been so graciously given by my interrogator in an alleyway a few hours before. I winced. Donovan, furious and at a loss for words, resorted to taunts like so many bullies do.
"You live alone, and lead a sad life. Why the hell am I even talking with you? What do you have for me? You're just a dumb private eye, and not a very good one at that. How about if you just give up now, and we can take you calmly down to the police station?"
"Why not the kennel, you odious bulldog," I replied, knowing I'd pay but giggling because I couldn't help running my mouth. Donovan stared at me with his beady little eyes and exhaled in a desperate attempt to remain calm, running his hand over his five o'clock shadow.
"No? Wise guy, huh? I thought so. We'll get to the bottom of this. Mark my fucking words."
He then socked me across the jaw in a swing that gave me painful reminders about the Great War. I toppled over, bringing the chair with me and hitting my head on the floor. One of my left molars now rattled around in my mouth, the empty cavity throbbing. Blood oozed out of my mouth, through my teeth and into the dirt. The taste was as familiar as whiskey.
I sneered through the pain as Donovan prepared to have another go: but he wouldn't be expecting me.
Playtime was over.