Leonard Featherstone stubbed out his cigarette in the large glass ashtray on the restaurant table. We were sitting at a downtown ham and egger at my request. I had to find out whether or not what Cicero had said about Lou Pine and his hints about Tank were true or not. If it had any legs Leonard Featherstone would know.

"You don't smoke, do you Johnny?" he asked.

"Never did, Lenny. Grandma Jones would take a willow switch to my behind if she caught me with smokes."

"My grandmother was a drunk," he said, the last vestiges of smoke from his dead cigarette curling out of the ashtray. "And she raised my dad to be the same."

I wasn't here to hear his life story and he wasn't here to give it, either. The waitress, a twin to the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, and with very bad teeth smiled and asked if we were ready to order.


"Coffee," Featherstone said. "And tell your boss back there that it's for Lenny Featherstone."

"You bet, officer," she replied, shoving her order book back into her apron pocket. Like most cops, Leonard Featherstone took the occasional free meal or coffee as just another extension of the job. People didn't seem to mind, and it actually enhanced the relationship between the cops and the business community. It was a sort of an understanding between them: I wink at this, you wink at that. Oh, and here's a Christmas turkey for your family. I put a bottle in there for you too, officer. Enjoy, and have a very merry. My best to your wife and kids. It was an old and time-tested formula, although some of the new moralists were crying foul, saying that the gifts and the free coffee amounted to a bribe and the police should be above things like that. These modern-day Savanarolas had no clue as to how the real world worked as they busied  themselves with painting fig leaves over the world's gentials. I shuddered to think what would happen if they ever got a grip on power. The country would go to hell in a handbasket, dragged down into a holier-than-thou cesspool.

"Thanks for the coffee, Lenny." I said.

He waved it away. "No problem. No what is it you wanted to talk about?"

I didn't really know how I was going to broach the topic so I just blurted it out. "What can you tell me about a guy named Lou Pine?"

His deadpan cop's face got suddenly animated and his eyes lit up. "What do you want to know about him for? Is this something to do with Tank Dupree's murder?"

I realized I had stepped in it and quickly tried to step back out. "Just heard his name come up in conversation in the cab, that's all. That he was some big power broker and I just wanted to know if it was true or not."

"You didn't have to ask me to meet you for coffee for that," he replied. "You could have just caught me on the street sometime and fired it at me. What is it you really want?"

Street rule number one: it's impossible to lie to a cop. They can smell untruth the way a bloodhound can sniff out an escaped convict. And I knew Featherstone had me cornered. The only thing missing was him baying for the warden.

"Well, I was asking around about what could have happened to Tank, and this Lou Pine's name came up. I just wanted to know who he was, that's all."

"Came up how?"

"That he was the kind of guy that . . . knew things?"

"What things?"

I began to squirm. It was like Featherstone had me in the interrogation room, sweating under the lights, instead of imbibing tepid coffee at a dimly lit diner.

"Just things," I said. I put a hand on his wrist. "Take it easy, Lenny. It's nothing. I was just curious."

Featherstone peeled my hand off his wrist and stood. "Well get uncurious, and quick. You mess with Lou Pine and you'll find your nuts tied in a knot."

"He's that hard of a case?"

"You bet he is," said the cop. "Why do you think I never made it past detective? It's because I wouldn't kiss that cocksucker's ass, that's why. Take my advice and forget about this, and forget about your friend. He's dead and it's my job to find out who did it. You just stick to driving your cab and knocking back the shots and beers and leave the heavy lifting to me."

"And another thing," he added. "If I hear you're pursuing this Lou Pine thing any further than right here I'll toss your ass in the can as an accessory to Tank Dupree's murder."

"How can you have an accessory when you don't even have a suspect?" I asked.

"I don't need one. I'm the police, remember?" He jammed his cap on his head. Like him, the porkpie hat was a throwback to yesteryear.

"You pick up the tip," he said, and left.

By telling me nothing he had in fact told me everything. His admonition not to poke around about Lou Pine only meant one thing: I would have to go see Mr. Pine myself. And I would poke. Hard.

Damn the torpedoes, Johnny Jump. And full speed ahead.

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