I hope it pleases. The rest of it won't be quite so Ben-centric, I promise.
Ferguson leaned back in his chair, the worn upholstery and rickety frame creaking in a note of protest that seemed echoed in his spine and shoulders. He reached out a hand without taking his eyes from the paperwork in front of him, his fingers closing unerringly around his cigarette packet. He tapped one out, put it to his lips and lit it, inhaling deeply before letting his head drop back with a sigh as he slowly expelled the smoke and watched as the gray-white tendrils made their way towards the ceiling, stained almost ochre by the years of poor schmucks just like him sitting right where he was and blowing smoke up in the same direction. It wasn't a cheering thought.
"I hate this fucking city."
They'd arrived in Chicago a week - no, more than that now - nine days earlier. They'd never tackled anything like this before. It was the first time they'd been out of state on a job. But the partnership was starting to grow, they definitely could do with the money, and it was undeniably a prestigious contract. Find the elder daughter of S. Charles Brereton III and take the spoilt little bitch back home to the loving arms of her adoring family. Ideally, she'd have already seen the error of her youthful ways and just be hiding out because she was too scared to do anything else. Ideally, she'd go with them without any fuss once she was reassured that Mommy and Daddy missed their little angel. Ideally, she'd accept that all was forgiven and she'd be able to pick up the pieces of her hitherto charmed existence exactly where she left them. Ideally he'd get the chance to knock some sense into the ungrateful little piece when, realistically, they'd have to grab her, kicking and screaming, and get her home the hard way. If Ferguson had his way, she'd be chloroformed and kept in a fucking crate to make sure she got back there, then she'd be horsewhipped and locked in her bedroom for a damn month until she learned to appreciate how fucking lucky she was.
Then again, janes like this one were never satisfied with what they had. They got bored with having everything handed to them on a fucking plate and never having to work a day in their lives. Thought it might be fun to kick over the traces, head out into the great wide world. Live. Obviously, the pressure of old pilgrim blood was too damn much, the wanderlust too great, to keep them where they should be fucking grateful to have been born. And this one had been born with a goddamn canteen of silver spoons rammed into every privileged orifice. Not like him and Matt and...
He screwed his eyes tighter shut, trying to force name and image out of his mind, but it was a wasted exercise. After all, that was another reason they'd taken this damn job which was so far removed from anything they'd been given up to now. He'd needed to get away from Boston, and Matt had realized. Friends from boyhood, it was almost inevitable the two of them would eventually go into either business or crime together. If they weren't in school, they could always be found hanging around one or other of their houses, or just taking off together. They'd been damn good times and, once Ferguson had realized that Matt's baby sister had grown into a damn beautiful woman, and that she seemed to like what she saw in him too, that had just been the frosting on the cake.
The wedding had been fairly small. Matt had been best man. Samantha had never looked more beautiful and Ferguson had thought to himself that things just didn't get better than this.
He was more right than he knew. Eight months after the wedding, when he was still pinching himself every damn morning as he woke up and saw her next to him, she'd met Jake Bellamy. To her credit, she'd told him everything straight away. To his credit, he'd simply turned and walked away, and no blood had been shed although if anyone had asked he'd have said it took over a week for his fists to unclench.
He'd slept at the office for a couple weeks, leaving at the end of business each day then making his own way back when he knew Matt would've been gone and he wouldn't be noticed. The faded horsehair couch was far from comfortable, but it had been marginally better than sleeping in a damn doorway. He'd thought he was doing well, hiding it all from his best friend and brother-in-law, and he was. He'd just never banked on Samantha announcing to the whole fucking world that their marriage had been a mistake and she wanted a divorce so she could marry the man she really loved. In fact, she was looking into seeking an annulment since she'd been pressurized into marrying a man she'd never loved, in spite of what she might have said at the time. Free will, apparently, had never even entered into it. Still, at least she'd never claimed he hadn't been able to get it up. She'd known Bellamy less than a month. Ferguson had watched her grow. She had no memory of a time when he hadn't been there. He'd never anticipated a time when he wouldn't.
Matt, when he had found out the truth, had hit the damn roof. His righteous indignation on behalf, not of his sister, but his friend, didn't do a whole lot for his relationship with the rest of his family, but worked miracles on Ferguson's bruised ego.
They'd left for Chicago four days after the shit had hit and they'd been here ever since.
Pushing his chair back from the table, Ferguson got to his feet and started pacing the floor. He thought better that way, although he wasn't altogether sure if thinking was a good idea right now. He'd hated the apartment from the second they'd been shown in the door, but temporary accommodation at a price they could afford was hard to come by and rarely salubrious. As it was they'd had an inquisition from the landlord, having to convince him that neither of them was Irish - it was obvious they weren't black, although it wouldn't have surprised either man if that question had come up - and they weren't a couple queer boys about to bring the down the reputation of the "respectable building".
Huffing a laugh, Ferguson glanced up towards the window. It was earlier than the light level in the room indicated, but the single window was poorly placed to admit light, even if more than a couple feeble rays could manage to struggle their way through the grime of months, maybe years, on the outside of the pane. He checked his watch, trying to figure out how long Matt would be. They'd both been chasing up half-assed leads since they'd gotten there, and Ferguson had drawn the short straw that day. His had been the job of trying to piece together what small pieces of information they'd received and work out what they could chase up and what was nothing more than a pile of dead-end bullshit. So far, it seemed most of it had belonged in the latter category. Still, he mused as he took a final drag on his cigarette before crossing back to the desk and crushing the butt into the ashtray, patience was pretty much the name of this whole game. He just wanted something to do.
"I really hate this fucking city."
But it was better than being back home right now.
He knew why they'd gotten the job. It was only partly down to Matt's convincing pitch when bidding for it. Not that he was knocking Matt's ways. Hell, if it was left to Ferguson's social skills they'd never have even gotten to look for lost dogs. But the real reason, the one he could see in every nuance of the Breretons' body language when they'd sat down with them, was secrecy. Giving the job to a major firm would've drawn media attention. Not only that, but the Breretons' friends - if people like this even had real friends rather than social competitors - would've known the higher-profile firms, maybe even have a snitch working in some of them who'd broadcast the whole thing around the neighborhood.
Ferguson despised the whole damn lot of them. They could take their superior damn everythings and shove it up their genteel asses. Sideways. In the meantime, he and Matt would find the lost treasure, have it sent back and pocket more money than they'd seen in pretty much forever. You could put up with a lot for a payload like the one they'd been promised. It'd sure replace the horsehair sofa, and a lot more besides.
He glanced down at the paperwork on the table once more, picked up his pack of cigarettes again and resigned himself to more games of joining the proverbial dots.
The sound of the door opening, and opening with some degree of enthusiasm if that was possible, drew his attention from both paperwork and cigarettes. Matt Bryson entered the room and was talking almost before he'd gotten the door closed.
Almost. He was too damn good to make quite so obvious a slip up.
"Benny. Get your glad-rags on and sort out your dancing shoes. We've got something. At least, we've got something better than I've heard since we got here."
Ferguson watched as Bryson crossed to one of the bedside tables and dropped his hat on it. "So? You gonna tell me more or do I have to resort to readin' your mind?"
"Huh?" Bryson paused, halfway through taking off his jacket, then continued sliding it off his arms. "Oh... right. We're goin' out for the evenin'. Nice little place, from all reports. Sort of joint where you knock an' speak to a wall before you can get in."
Ferguson smirked. "Mom and Pop'd be delighted to find their little girl in a place like that. Damn, I hope she is there. That'd be a report I'd enjoy writing up for them."
His smirk was mirrored. "I thought you'd approve. Seems there's a guy called Foster runs a speakeasy six blocks away. Anyhow, one of the regulars is a guy who sometimes turns up with what I'm told is a highly classy broad. She don't say much, but she sure makes a statement, if you get me."
"And the classy broad's our girl?"
Bryson nodded. "Our girl, and just about anyone else's for the right price, so I'm told."
Ferguson laughed, genuinely amused. "She's a whore? Oh man, this just gets better." He reached for the cigarettes again, still laying where they'd been dropped when Matt had gotten back.
"Not exactly." Bryson laughed at the look of disgust which fell over his partner's face. "I mean, she is. But she's the sort of whore who'd call herself an escort, if she could make her own mind up about it. The guy she's with? Name's McCloy. I heard it mentioned a few times while I was askin', and I didn't need your observational skills to realize this guy's Known around here."
"Mob?" Ferguson had already figured out the possibility since Matt had mentioned the speakeasy, but the one didn't necessarily follow the other. Matt's nod confirmed it.
"I'd put the Breretons' fee on it. And this girl seems to have gotten herself mixed up with him. He tells her what to do - who to do - and she does it. No questions asked, apparently."
Ferguson lit his cigarette, thinking. "What makes you think she's our girl?"
Bryson shrugged. "Timeline fits. She only turned up a while after the Brereton kid disappears. She's classy, by all accounts. When she does talk, it's like she's spent half her life in some fancy European finishing school. And she matches the physical description, more or less."
Ferguson shrugged. "Don't mean she's the Brereton kid. There's gotta be more'n one classy brunette whore in a city this size."
"You're right, Benny," conceded Bryson with a nod. "But I doubt our girl, with her upbringing, is gonna be able to just fade in among the regular flotsam and jetsam. She'd stand out. Just like this broad apparently stands out. Duck out've water, see? So, we go tonight and check this one out."
Ben Ferguson nodded with a slightly reluctant grunt. Matt grinned.
"Cheer up. Besides, even if she's not our girl, it don't have to be a wasted evenin'."
Ben looked at him, eyebrow raised questioningly.
"Well..." Bryson explained. "The way I see it, it can't help to get in with this McCloy guy. Negotiatin' a fee to fuck his whore's a hell've an ice-breaker."
"Uh-huh," Ben nodded. "And just which've us would be having that particular pleasure?"
Matt's grin widened. "Benny! Benny, Benny, Benny. Come on. You know I'm the negotiator here. But if there's one whore there's sure to be others. I'm sure we'd find one for you as well. She might even have both eyes and all her teeth, you never know."
He just managed to avoid the ashtray as it sailed across the room towards his head. Ben turned away without pursuing the argument. Matt was an insufferable pain in the ass when he got enthusiastic about something. As for Ben, he just hoped the alcohol was good enough to do the job without putting him six feet under.
And, although he'd never say it, he desperately wanted Matt to be right. Not so much about the Brereton bitch, but damn... he needed laid. And soon.