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Dim Caffeinic Nights

by Spider Joe


Chapter 1

The sun lingered on the horizon, half submerged in the pitiless sands of the looming west. The dry air was burdened with ubiquitous desert dust. In the city, respectable people -- those with lives, with family, with purpose -- were already abandoning the streets to those who traffic in darkness. The market was closed, the abandoned stalls stripped bare. Even the police station, in the daytime a maelstrom of activity under the capable administration of Prefect Raoul, cast off light and concern as darkness approached. Not even the representatives of law (if not order) could resist the timeless tradition that, in the desert night, sacrificed the streets to the reign of thieves. And in the heart of the Thieves' District, gathering strength to face the beginning of its business day, stood Spider Joe's Cafe Americain, where life is cheap, and anything could be had -- for a price.

Spider Joe himself watched with satisfaction as the day drained of life. And then, it was night. The coffee was already brewing, ready to serve to any who dared the streets and could pay the price. The casino was ready for business. Sam was tuning his piano. This promised to be an interesting evening. Interesting indeed. For Machine-Gun McMaster, also known as Mac the Knife, the smuggler extraordinaire, was expected this evening to claim her weekly tribute of coffee. And unbeknownst to her, le General Kozinski of the Southern Garrison, sat incognito at a small table, waiting for her arrival. And unbeknownst to him, he wasn't unbeknownst to her at all. She knew he would be there. And she was bringing friends, a score of the most dangerous in-fighters in the city. But unbeknownst to her, le General was also bringing friends -- a score of his most trusted Legionnaires, hardened veterans just come from the skirmishes in Tunisia. There'll be knife-work here tonight, Spider Joe mused.

Sam started his first number, "Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian." The mood of the first sullen customers adjusted to the accommodate the strains of the song. Coffee was served. The night was just beginning.

Chapter 2

It was night. The streets of the city were swathed in darkness, dusty receptacles for the effluvia of light that escaped, half-used, from the dens and hovels of the Thieves' District. And at the heart of the District was one den that was more than a den, one hovel that was more than a hovel, the unacknowledged center of a world within a world. It was Spider Joe's Cafe Americain, where life is cheap, and anything could be had -- for a price. Minutes before, the sound of Sam's piano had filled the streets and alleys with a muted strain, rising above the hushed, desperate whispers of the early-evening patrons, above the clatter of cups and saucers of the desert city's most notorious coffee bar, rising even above the frenzied, forced laughter of Spider Joe's gaming tables. But now, all was silent, music, whispers, clatter, and laughter all vanished. Inside the Cafe, all was still and unreal. Smoke had replaced any breathable air, drifting in palpable wisps around the lamps and candles of the main room. Even the No Smoking section was shrouded in its own pall of exhalation.

To Spider Joe, looking over the early receipts in the upstairs office, the rush of silence was a warning knell, a harbinger of blood. He stepped out of the office and looked down over the staircase. The smoke was so thick he could almost hear it scraping its full, serpentine lengths past the candles in the chandelier. His street-wise eyes sorted the scene in an instant. In a corner sat Le Generale Kozinsky, his eyes fixed to the front. Near him, failing to appear casual, were a score of his veteran Legionnaires, sitting at tables by twos and threes, pretending to exchange reminiscences about the Tunisian campaign. At the other end of Le Generale's gaze, having just entered from the secretive street beyond, stood Mac the Knife, Machine-Gun Mac, smuggler extraordinaire, backed by her loyal band of ruthless cutthroats. Her gaze instantly found Le Generale's, and their eyes were locked in a duel of wills, precursor to the duel of blood. The coffee was ready, but clearly, on this night, neither had come for brew.

Chapter 3

It was an old kind of trouble at Spider Joe's Cafe Americain, where life is cheap, and anything could be had -- for a price. Le Generale Kozinsky, the Legion's Iron Fist, flanked by a score of his veteran Legionnaires, was about to face off against Machine-Gun Mac, smuggler extraordinaire, and her ruthless band of loyal cutthroats. Kozinsky shifted his eye-patch from his right eye to his left, giving free reign to his good eye. His lips twisted upward in a hideous grin, twisting his cheek-length scar into a lightening-bolt shape. He drew his sabre, and assumed a sneering en garde.

In response, Mac threw back her head and laughed. She pulled the kafia from her head and tossed it neatly onto the hat-rack, 15 yards across the room. With an air of reckless bravado, she stepped across the room in a flurry of flowing desert robes. Behind her, her desert warriors drew silent swords and stood at the ready, keeping Kozinsky's killers at bay. She slammed her fist on the bar, shocking San Pedro, the bartender, out of his fearful stupor. "San Pedro," she called, "Kenya Double-A. In a mug. With cream. Shaken, not stirred." San Pedro let his shoulders droop, as near as he could come to a courteous bow, and turned to prepare the coffee. Mac leaned on the bar with apparent unconcern, while behind her, abandoned in the center of the dance floor, Le Generale quivered with rage.

"You!" he screamed. "Knife! You've escaped me twice. This time, I'll see you hang, and all your cutthroats with you."

Mac turned her face to the mirror behind the bar and calmly looked into the reflection of Kozinsky's livid eyes. "Are you speaking to me, mon petit Generale?"

"Don't call me that," Kozinsky screamed with rage, "No one calls me that -- and lives." He rushed at Mac, waving his sabre before him. At the same time, his killers drew blades and rushed across the floor toward Mac's fighters. Mac turned around and rested her back against the bar. She showed no concern over Kozinsky's headlong rush. She merely folded her arms and looked at him. When he was within a few yards of him, she whispered something, a few barely audible syllables. Kozinsky pulled himself to a stop, his free hand clutching his chest. His sabre clattered to the floor.

"What did you say?" he whispered, his voice broken, his rasping breath as dry as a desert storm. "Did you ... did you ... where ..." He collapsed. Someone screamed. Spider Joe turned out the lights.

Chapter 4

When the lights came back on, Mac and her followers had vanished, Kozinsky's cutthroats were dead heaps scattered about the room, and Le Generale, formerly the Legion's Iron Fist, was on his knees, muttering incoherently in a strange tongue, repeating over and over the same syllables Mac had spoken to him only moments before. Spider Joe looked down at him, and somehow knew that Kozinsky would be like this for the rest of his life.

But where was Mac? San Pedro placed Mac's coffee on the bar, and out of habit shrugged his disconsolate bow. "She is gone?" he asked. Spider Joe nodded and lit a cigarette. There was no sign of Mac anywhere, nor of her men. Nothing. Nada. Nihil. Zilch. Nothing, he reaffirmed, his eyes sweeping over the main room of the Cafe where already things were beginning to return to normal. Nothing, that is, except ... His eyes fastened on the hat rack, where a smuggler's kafia still rocked slightly from the force of its flight through the air. Mac the Knife's kafia! He went to the hat rack, removed the kafia, and walked silently toward Sam's piano. He barely had time to lift the top and drop in the kafia, when a commotion at the door caused him to turn.

It was Captain Rodrigo Raoul, Prefect of Police, immaculate in his spotless linens and untarnished brass, a detached smile hanging beneath two crisp, trim mustachios. At his side, casting disdain over the infidels in the room, was the notorious Abdul Radish, Dealer in Antiquities, internationally-known Vegeterrorist. They were accompanied by a squad of gendarmes sporting pistols and batons. Radish turned to Raoul, and motioned with his arm toward the pathetic Kozinsky. "See," he cried, "It is just as I foretold." The Captain muttered a bored "Holy blue!" then turned to one of his men. "Sergeant Serge, round up the usual suspects. And a bonus to the man who can bring me one of Mac's cutthroats ... alive." He turned to Spider Joe, who by now had reached them from across the room. "So. We are well met once again, my friend, at Spider Joe's Cafe Americain, where life is cheap, and anything can be had -- for a price. Now, mon ami, I want to know what is happening, and to whom. And tell San Pedro to bring me a cup of Guatemala Antigua. Up. And Sumatra Mandheling for my associate, if you please."

Chapter 5

"Won't you join us?" asked Radish, motioning toward the table he had selected, the same table, Spider Joe noted, where Kozinsky had enjoyed his last cup of coffee.

"Indeed," added the Prefect, "Have San Pedro bring something for yourself." He paused. "But I forget myself, non? Spider Joe never, never drinks with his guests, does he?" He turned to Radish and explained. "It is a little idiosyncrasy of his. Spider Joe does not socialize with customers."

"San Pedro," Spider Joe called, "Bring me some Jamaica Blue Mountain."

"Well! This is a surprise," said the Prefect. "Spider Joe sipping coffee with guests. The District will never be the same." Spider Joe said nothing.

During a moment of awkward silence, Abdul Radish looked about the Cafe with an appreciating eye. "So this is the famous Spider Joe's. Its reputation is well-deserved. Who has not heard of Spider Joe's Cafe Americain, where life is cheap, and anything can be had -- for a price."

San Pedro brought the coffees, and Radish reached for his purse. "Please. Be my guests tonight," said Spider Joe, waving San Pedro away.

"Well," said Prefect Raoul, "We are doubly honored tonight."

"Cut the crap, Rodrigo. What's on your mind?"


Chapter 6

"Cut the crap, Rodrigo. What's on your mind?" Spider Joe repeated. Sam had started playing again, but was getting strange, muffled sounds from the base notes. No one seemed to notice.

"We have a little problem here, it seems," said Rodrigo, acting the part of the perfect Prefect and lighting a small black cigarette. "There has been, it seems, a rash of crimes. Citizen Radish has expressed concern, and I have taken it upon myself, good civil servant that I am, to get the root of these crimes."

Abdul Radish lit a Turkish cigarette and nodded. "It is true, Mister Joe. There is great evil abroad this night." He smiled knowingly, then spoke again, abruptly. "What do you know of the Knife of Akkabish?"

Spider Joe almost dropped his guard. Almost, but not quite. "Never heard of it."

"Never?" Radish asked. He drew hard on his cigarette. "And do you not know the smuggler known as Mac? Mac the Knife? Machine-gun McMaster?"

"I've heard of her."

"Oh, come now, my friend," Rodrigo intimated. "Do you not know that Mac the Knife and the Knife of Akkabish are one and the same?"

"Really?" Spider Joe replied, trying to appear incredulous.

Abdul Radish was growing impatient. "I have clients, Mister Joe. Friends, in fact. Fearsome friends, not unknown in the international vegeterrorist community. These friends are interested in an unusual item. A little artifact. A mere curio, I assure you, that has no inherent worth, beyond a great sentimental value to an unknown (and not even very well to do) collector."

"What does this have to do with me?" Spider Joe asked, and sipped from his steaming mug of Jamaica Blue Mountain.

"A great deal, Mister Joe. For your friend and business partner, the Knife of Akkabish -- don't deny that you know her, for this fact is well known throughout the city -- your friend and business partner has come to possess this curio. Le Generale knew this, and was here at my request to retrieve it. We want to know where she is."

"Then why don't you ask Le Generale Kozinsky?"

"Oh, come, come," interceded the Prefect. "Le Generale's mind is mush, and I'd be surprised if he ever answers a question again."

"Military intelligence," said Spider Joe.

"I would advise you not to be too flippant, my old friend. For Mr. Radish here has some very powerful friends, and is acquainted with denizens of the night of whom even you and I have heard only rumors."

"Are you threatening me, Rodrigo?"

"Not at all, my friend. I am warning you."

Radish stood abruptly, knocking over his chair behind him. "I will have my answer, Mister Joe. And I will have it by tomorrow night." He left the cafe.

"He is a dangerous man, my friend," said Rodrigo as he stood to leave. With a gesture he sent his gendarmes into the street. "A dangerous man to cross. But then, so are you." And with that, he left. Spider Joe said nothing. He sat quietly and drank his coffee. He sat for a long time.

Morning was coming. By the time the sun rose, all the night places in the Thieves' District would be closed, even Spider Joe's Cafe Americain, where life was cheap, and anything could be had -- for a price. Dawn was time to close, and time to think. Spider Joe put Sam to work pushing out the last customers and closing everything down. Shutters were pulled to, doors were locked, and the day's receipts were stuffed into a drop-safe in the upstairs office. San Pedro began wiping down the tables. "Make sure you get those blood stains," Spider Joe said. Then he walked next door to have breakfast at Manolo's.

Chapter 7

Manolo's Iberian Cuisine was a hovel of transition. It straddled the worlds of darkness and light as easily and as freely as Manolo himself straddled the diffuse, jealous cultures of the Thieves' District. Here the night people, the elite citizens of the urban desert night, would gather after a dark day's work. "It's Manolo time," they would whisper, and insinuate themselves into the dark restaurant in twos and threes. All alleys led to Manolo's, where food was cheap, and where no one ever complained -- and lived. Everyone knew, but only a few select patrons were welcome at this hour. And as his place began to fill valued customers, the secretive Manolo would close the doors, pull the shades, and render his moody common-room into an exclusive private club, a secret place where the sunrise could be postponed, and the anonymous comfort of night could be sustained. For a little while. Manolo himself, having dismissed his meager staff long before, served the patrons and did all the cooking. Some would order dinner. Some would order breakfast. It didn't matter to Manolo, since everyone got paella, anyway. Occasionally, he promised additions to the menu, but so far, it had been just talk. No one complained, though. At Manolo's, no one ever complained -- and lived. Besides, it was good paella. The best paella in the world.

Spider Joe sat at his usual table and said nothing, confident that Manolo had seen his arrival and would supply him with a plate of paella as soon as it was ready. He looked around the room, memorizing unfamiliar faces, committing to memory who was dining with whom, and taking special note of those who dined alone.

Manolo approached silently, and placed in front of him a hand-carved wooden plate, almost a bowl, heaped with steaming paella. He also dropped a long-handled wooden spoon onto the table. Just a spoon. At Manolo's, no one used forks, and the patrons always brought their own knives.

"Kozinsky's dead," Manolo said.

Spider Joe looked up. "Oh? When?"

"An hour ago. On the way to the hospital. He committed suicide."

"How?" asked Spider Joe, not a little interested.

"You haven't heard then?" asked Manolo.

"No. How did he do it?"

"He stabbed himself," Manolo said. "In the back. Four times."

Spider Joe shrugged and started eating. Tomorrow, he thought to himself. Tomorrow, someone is going to have to find the Knife of Akkabish. He had to get in touch with Freddie Tosca. Freddie the Fly.

"Manolo, do me a favor, will you?"

"Of course, amigo."

"Put the word out that I want to see Freddie."

"Sure," Manolo said, and he walked away, leaving Spider Joe to his dinner. Or was it breakfast? Or both?

Chapter 8

Each morning before retiring, Night pulls back black straps of darkness, retracts the listless tendrils of mood that quicken the Thieves' District, contracts the dusky wisps that cloak and color the realm of the night people. Those who know the city well know that day never completely overcomes the night. Rather, the night withdraws to lick its wounds, and in its time pushes back the day and fosters another span of living intrigue. Spider Joe usually stayed awake until the daylight claimed its first victim, then retired to his suite of rooms above the Cafe Americain, where life is cheap, and anything could be had -- for a price. This day was no different. The Cafe was locked and shuttered. Sam, San Pedro, and the rest had long since closed up and gone home. They would be back shortly after dinner, but in the meanwhile, Spider Joe would sleep. He stretched out on his couch and closed his eyes.

While Spider Joe slept, the city slowly pulled itself into an illusory semblance of a wakened state. The ubiquitous desert dust staunched any lingering traces of the sea-laden night breeze's moody humidity. Among the throughways of commerce and traffic, the respectable people -- those with lives, with family, with purpose -- were opening market stalls, polishing counters, and browsing over newspapers that refused to conceal the world that passed while they slept. Then business began, and the day went by in a flurry of labor, errand, and mercantile banality. The pace of insipid energy always increased until shortly before sundown, when the rotation would begin again, and night recycled once again the wretches of the Thieves' District.

It was night, or nearly so, when Spider Joe was roused from sleep by a quite knock at his private door. It was a persistent knock, a steady brak-brak-brak, sustained until he sat up on the couch and called "Who is it?"

A quiet, rasping voice answered, "It's me!" Spider Joe recognized that voice. It belonged to Fredrico Tosca -- Freddie the Fly.

Spider Joe hesitated and listened through the door. Nothing. Just one person. But then, San Pedro was already downstairs setting up, and Sam was with him. There couldn't have been any trouble. At least, not noisy trouble. He went to the door and opened it. Freddie stood there, dressed predictably in an irregular white linen suit, black shirt, and yellow Empire State Building tie. "Hello, Freddie."

"Hi. We got business?"

Spider Joe looked into the hallway. Sam, San Pedro, and the rest of the crew were just arriving. Things were beginning to take shape for this night's business. "Not here. This is no place to talk," said Spider Joe, and he turned and walked into his parlor. Freddie the Fly followed, closing the door behind him.

"Where you been, Freddie?" Spider Joe asked.

"Oh, you know. The usual. I been in Marakkesh the last couple of weeks. Business. Things went sour. Had to catch the Express back. Heard some news, though."

"What sort of news."

"That Abdul Radish is coming after Mac. Hush-hush stuff. Kozinsky's on the prowl, too. At least, he was. I heard he was hit." Spider Joe nodded, and Freddie went on, "Another nice item. You'll like this one. Madame Rouge is coming back. I just got the word from Paris."

So. Madame Rouge was returning. This could prove interesting. Spider Joe first met Rouge in Marrakesh. He remembered it like it was yesterday. It was at The Maison Rouge, where nothing is cheap, and few could even afford to ask the price. She had to leave Marrakesh in a hurry. Some problem with a murdered magistrate and one the chorus girls from Follies Rouge. Eventually, she found her way to Cairo, Rome, Hamburg, Amsterdam, and finally to Paris, where she spent a year, maybe more, consolidating her financial empire. Why was she coming back? Maybe the insipid, mundane banality of business had finally caught up with her. She didn't belong to that world, Spider Joe thought. Rouge belonged to the night.

Freddie interrupted Spider Joe's reverie. "You asked me to stop by. We got business?"

"A little. Two things. I want you to put a tail on Abdul Radish. I also want you to locate Mac the Knife."

"Tough order. Two tough orders. Radish has some thugs that don't do nothing but keep tails off him. They shoo flies, too, if you get my meaning. And Mac is tough to track. Nobody finds her unless she wants to be found. She's got people all over, too. She's real hard to reach."

"Can you do it?"

"How much."

"The usual."

"Not enough."


"Okay. I'll see what I can do. You can do something for me, too."

Spider Joe was impressed. Freddie never asked for favors. "If I can."

"I know this guy, see. A good friend. His name's Kaekel. He was wondering when he was going to make it into the story. Can you do anything?"

"I think I just did. But I'll see." Freddie started toward the door. "Freddie," Spider Joe called. "One more thing. Did you ever hear of the Knife of Akkabish?"

Freddie stopped. "Sure. That's Mac. They call her that in Morocco. Unless you mean that other thing."

"What other thing?"

"That treasure or something. Radish has been hunting it. For a long time, I think. Anything else?"

"No. I'll be in touch."

Freddie left the room and closed the door.

Chapter 9

It was night, and all of the waste of day had been poured into the gutters in preparation for the moods of darkness. Rage, frustration, obligations, and deadlines washed away into the sewers while the patrons of the Thieve's District removed their guises of respectability and prepared to embark from their dens and hovels into the mood-soaked mysteries of the moon.

The foremost (and best loved) heralds of the night were the simple chords spun forth from Sam's piano. Each day, at dusk precisely, he rehearsed the night's entertainment. His burden was to set and maintain the mood of the night. He knew, in fact, that the mood for the entire Thieve's District was often set at Spider Joe's Cafe Americain, where life is cheap, and anything could be had -- for a price. For if Spider Joe's was the heart of the District, the unacknowledged center of that world within a world, Sam's voice and piano were its pulse.

Sam was playing and singing "Don't Hesitate for Love" when Spider Joe left his office and came down to the main floor. Spider Joe recognized the tune, and paused at the foot of the stairs to listen. He knew that for him and Sam, the song had a special significance, recalling for both those early days in Marrakesh. Old times remembered, and new times washed away by the memories, but that was then, and this is now, and what was was. Oh well, Spider Joe thought, back to work. If Freddie was right and Rouge is back, things could get busy in a hurry. Already, customers were finding their ways to the gaming tables. The coffee bar was getting busy, tables were filling, except for a few where San Pedro and Schultzie had placed "Reserved" placards. The reservations were merely a formality, of course. The regular patrons had their regular tables, and those tables were always available. No one questioned this.

Schultzie saw him making his rounds across the floor, and rushed up waving a piece of paper. "Hey, Mister Spiderjoe," he called, "I got you for this note from Freddie the Fly to you."

SJ --

I checked my files, found a few leads. I'm following up on them. Mac is in trouble. Big trouble. The kind maybe you don't want to mess with. Word is she's off to her haunts in the desert. I'll send someone around with some information for you. I also got a guy lined up who'll help you track Mac, if you want to. Word is Radish is going after her, too. Watch out for Radish. He's ice, mean clear through.

By the way, Rouge is in town. She bought out the Blue Toucan, fired everybody, and flew in a few decorators from Amsterdam and Hong Kong. Maison Rouge just might open its doors any day now. What do they do there, anyway?

Freddie the Fly

Freddy, of course, had files on everyone, and he kept them up to date through a network of sources every police and intelligence service in the world could envy. Nothing escaped Freddie. For he was Freddie the Fly, by whom nothing gets.

Spider Joe walked among the tables, giving greeting to friends, regulars, even a few enemies. The table talk was abuzz with gossip about Rouge. But the talk stopped suddenly when Abdul Radish walked into the cafe, followed by his favorite henchmen. He was looking for Mac. He was looking for Spider Joe. He was looking for trouble.

Chapter 10

Abdul Radish motioned his henchman ahead of him onto the main floor. They spied an empty table, took places around it, and waited en garde as their master made his way to his table.

"I regret, Mister Joe, that we have not yet finished our conversation of two nights ago." He smiled -- it was not a pretty sight.

"Oh really? I thought we finished it quite nicely."

"Amusing, Mister Joe. Most amusing. It is no wonder that everybody in this fair city eventually finds their way to Spider Joe's Cafe Americain, where life is cheap, and anything could be had -- for a price."

Spider Joe sat silently while Radish lit a Turkish cigarette, then continued. "I recall that we spoke briefly of the unpleasant climate of crime permeating our city. It would be unfortunate if any of our long-standing citizens -- even those of, shall we say, dubious reputation? -- were to fall victim to such uncivil chaos."

"That's why we have gendarmes, Radish. They protect innocent civilians like me from bad guys like you."

Radish laughed -- it was not a pretty sound. "Most amusing. I think you might find, however, that the police may be of little help in this matter. Prefect Raoul already has his hands full dealing with the day-in, day-out proliferation of minor crimes. He cannot offer special protection to such as we. We look out for ourselves in this world."

"Sure, Radish. You and your cohorts in the international vegeterrorist community do well in looking after your own interests."

"Ah, yes. Helping our friends... and of course chastising our enemies. And our enemies are chastised, my friend, and with a vengeance. It is better to be a friend, if you take my meaning?"

Spider Joe was silent. Schultzie approached the table to take orders, but Spider Joe waved him away. He looked at Radish and smiled.

"I'm afraid we'll be unable to entertain you tonight. Reservations only."

"I quite understand. Let me ask you a few brief questions, however, before I leave."

"Ask if you like, but I can't promise any answers."

"It is a question I've asked before. What do you know of the Knife of Akkabish?"

"It's a question I've answered before. Never heard of it."

Abdul Radish frowned. It was not a pretty sight. "My clients will not be pleased to hear that, Mister Joe. They attach great sentimental value to the curio. It is rumored that the Queen of Smugglers, whom we know as Mac the Knife, but who is also called Machine-Gun Mac, but is known elsewhere as the Knife of Akkabish, is named for that self-same curio. It is rumored, as well, that she knows where it is, and that if we find her, we shall find the artifact as well."

"I wouldn't know about that. I have no idea where she is."

"Indeed. Memory is fickle. Suppose I were to tell you that information on the whereabouts of your friend and business partner was worth money to my associates in the antiquities, say, something in the range of two hundred thousand francs."

"If you were to tell me, I suppose I'd be impressed. But it wouldn't help. I don't know where she is."

"Then tell me this, since you were here. What was it she said to Le Generale Kozinsky? Was it not here words that drove him to madness, and eventually suicide?"

"You tell me."

"It is rumored that her kafia is embroidered with a map of some significance. Have you ever seen it?"

"I have a business to run, Radish. Excuse me."

Radish motioned to one of his henchmen, who rushed from the cafe. "You do try my patience. Perhaps I shall not patronize your cafe again."

"I could survive such a loss."

"Indeed. I do not doubt that you could continue to eke out a living serving coffee to this rabble." He gestured around the room. "If you were so permitted."

As if on cue, the shrill scream of a police whistle sliced through the moody tranquility of the cafe. Prefect Raoul burst through the main door, flanked by a score of his most brutal gendarmes. He nodded a greeting to Spider Joe, then looked calmly around the room. "This establishment is closed," he announced, "Pending further investigation."

Spider Joe walked toward him, but his path was suddenly blocked by the crossed batons of two of Raoul's trusted sergeants.

"Closed for what reason," he asked, as his patrons, used to the idiosyncrasies of law enforcement in the Thieve's District, finished their coffees and vanished out the door.

"Oh, I'll think of something. There's a crime wave in this area. Or haven't you heard?"

The last of the patrons were being escorted out the door. Radish and his men, unable to contain their glee at the closing of the Cafe, were among the last to leave, enjoying the show to the last. When only Spider Joe and his staff were left, Raoul snapped to attention, bowed subtly, and left, closing the door after him. Spider Joe could hear one of the Prefect's men attaching an edict of closure to the front door.

Spider Joe stood silently for a moment on the deserted main floor. He sighed, then went up to his office. He picked up the phone to call his lawyers at the eminent law firm of Kovacevic, McPartlan, and Wells.

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