Justice Weekley had had a wooden leg since the Somme, and had owned the shoeshine concession in the lobby of the Marine Building since 1930. If yours were shoes of distinction in the city of Vancouver, Justice had probably run a rag over them. His stand consisted of five seats. He employed two boys. But when sitting down, everyone hoped they’d have Justice Weekley shine their shoes.
Crispin Dench took a seat and placed his wingtips on the brass footrests. It was Monday at 2:00 p.m. Business would be slow until five. Dench had the whole stand to himself.
“Waddaya know, Justice?”
Justice Weekley looked at Dench’s shoes and shook his head. “This ain’t like you, Crispin. These shoes are a mess.”
“Been jumping backyard fences after the bad guys,” Dench said, looking around. “You got the Daily Racing Form?”
“Right next to you, between the chairs.”
“Ah, so.” Dench picked up the tab and began to read.
Justice Weekley went to work, rolling up Dench’s pant cuffs. He brushed off the surface soil, the debris of all those felonious backyards, and applied just the right amount of black Kiwi. Then he brushed again to bring out a shine. After that, he went to work with the rag, popping it now and again for effect.
“I hear Salamander in the third,” Weekley said, concentrating on the shoes. “To win.”
“I saw that written on the men’s room wall, Justice. Sure that isn’t where you got it?”
“You know better, Crispin.”
Indeed, Crispin Dench did know better. Justice Weekley was an excellent handicapper, and had track connections. Dench made a mental note. Then he said, “I like Call Me Catherine in the third. That filly’s been running real sweet lately. Three to one, though.” He made a face.
“They been dopin’ her up,” said Weekley. “It can’t last much longer. She’ll be doin’ a homestretch nosedive any day now.”
“That’s a shame.”
“That’s the horses in Vancouver, my friend.”
Dench nodded and turned a page.
“Had a guy drop off a pair of Allan Edmonds the other day,” Weekley said, smoothly changing the subject. “Soaked in this sticky rusty cakey stuff. Said he’d had an accident. Told me if I made ‘em like new again, and kept my mouth shut ‘bout it, he’d give a $20 tip.”
“Sticky rusty cakey,” Dench said, still looking at the racing form but no longer reading. “Sounds like melted strawberry ice cream.”
“Weren’t no ice cream.” Weekley gave the rag an extra loud pop.
“What was it, then?”
“Blood,” Weekley said, looking round for anyone who might overhear.
Dench let the racing form fall into his lap. “So, what you do?” he said.
“I did what he said. He came to get ‘em. He wasn’t happy.”
“Because they didn’t look like new. They just looked less sticky rusty and cakey.”
“He pay you?”
“He gave me fifty cents for the shine and a twenty dollar bill for a tip. Then he reminded me to keep my mouth shut. Said if I didn’t, he’d break off my good leg and feed it to me.”
“He seem the sort who could do it?”
“He seemed the sort who might try.”
“Why do you think he didn’t just throw the shoes out?”
“They were expensive. Besides, people got peculiar feelings for their shoes, especially tough nuts. It was like that in the east end. Don’t forget I had a stand there before here, on Commercial. I had some real Cosa Nostra types as regulars. I tell you, they loved their shoes. They’d bring ‘em in after this job or that, who knows what, but these characters weren’t any boy scouts. The shoes would look like they’d just done a shift on a slaughterhouse killin’ floor. But we’re talkin’ some fine Italian footwear, here. Make ‘em new again, Justice, they’d say. Where I come from, they ain’t got no shoes like these. Hey, they ain’t got no shoes! They’d say some shit like that, then laugh.”
“And, so I got good at cleaning up shoes after this gumba or that had committed a capital crime. Sometimes I was successful, other times not. But they were always grateful that I tried. I told ‘em, get a pair of rubber boots. No one will know. No sir, they said. Lookin’ good is part of the job. The other thing I got good at fast was keepin’ my mouth shut. Cops came lots-a-times, asked me questions that could get me killed if I answered them. But I just played the dumb one legged shoeshine jerk. The mob boys appreciated that. Good tips at Christmas.”
“You think this character from the other day knew about your reputation?”
Before he answered, Justice Weekley made a performance of seeing his reflection in the toe of Dench’s shoe. He pretended to use the mirror-like result of his artful science to pick a crumb of something out of his teeth.
“He was from somewhere else,” Weekley said. “If he was mob, that is. The Vancouver Pisans would be peasants compared to this guy. He looked like a lawyer from upstairs. Expensive suit. Expensive tie. Hundred dollar shoes. No visible scars. But he had that flip my switch and see what happens look about him. I’ve seen it in a few of the east end boys, the ones that go A-Bomb real easy and cause a lot of sorrow. Oh, and the twenty bones he tipped me was American. He might be Chicago or New York, maybe even Toronto.”
“What’s street-side say?” Dench said.
“Street says there’s a guy in town, real cool and real nasty. But the street ain’t always right. Special job. I guess it’s a done deal now, judging by the shoes. He got into town a week ago. Whereabouts unknown. Seen on the sidewalk, a couple of bars. Matches the description of the fella we’re discussing.”
“Any local wacks?”
“That’s the thing. There have been three. Two Mafia wannabes who should have stuck to knockin’ over gas stations. And, wait for it…, Walter Catalano. If he done all three, then this guy’s giving a group rate. The bodies of the two wannabes were found under the bridge over the cut at Broadway and Commercial — old news, as they say. Each with a bullet in the head and heart.”
“But Catalano,” Dench said. “That can’t be. He’s way up there in the Vancouver Family. It’d be all over the news by now.”
“You know better,” Weekley said. “It’ll be all over the news if they ever find a body. Until then, and it might take a while for the dust to settle on this, Catalano’ll just be a missing person. The mob boys aren’t gonna say nothin’. They’re just gonna reciprocate, if they can. But for now ol’ Walter Catalano’s coolin’ his dead heels in some newly poured concrete foundation round town. This is all conjecture, of course. I’m just the shoeshine jerk.”
“Of course,” Dench said. “But just think of it. All of this linked to a single pair of bloody shoes you held in your own hands. You live an oddly charmed life, Justice Weekley.”
Weekley rolled down Crispin Dench’s pant cuffs, and ran two pinched fingers down the creases. “My life’s like a fucking dream, Crispin. And I gotta tell you, it’s Salamander in the third. Swear to God.”