Spiegel and Holcomb stopped on the corner opposite of Tino’s. Holcomb had a distressed look on his face as he squinted at the small restaurant.
“Relax, Holcomb, this is only reconnaissance. There’s no need to be nervous,” Spiegel said coolly.
“I’m not, I’m not nervous,” Holcomb repeated as he tried to convince himself as well as Spiegel. He wiped a dab of sweat off his upper lip with his coat sleeve.
“Come on, it’s dinner time,” Spiegel said as he stepped off the curb. Holcomb was a step behind him as they approached the small restaurant. They ducked under the canopy and inside. An older Italian man with black thinning hair greeted them and seated them at a table.
Sal had never seen these two men before. The smaller of the two was fidgety. While the other was much too stiff and nodded haughtily to Sal as he presented the menus. He had only seen men act like that when they had come to see Sicero on business, but they hadn’t said anything to that effect. If a meeting had been scheduled the Boss would have told Sal to reserve a particular table. Sal grabbed the waiter as he came out of the kitchen.
“Your new table…If they ask, we only have the Welch’s, eh?” The waiter nodded. Sal went into the kitchen and knocked on the office door.
“Come in,” a voice said.
Sal cracked the door and poked his head in the dim room. Frank sat at his desk smoking a cigar. Charlie sat at the card table and shuffled a deck by himself.
“Sorry to disturb you, Boss, but are expecting visitors?”
“No, why’s that?” Frank asked. Sal shook his head.
“Nothing, but some men have arrived and they…I don’t know. I have a weird feeling about them,” Sal said.
“Hm,” Frank replied as he stared into the bottom of his glass. Charlie piped up from his chair.
“Do you want me to go check it out, Boss?”
“It’s probably nothing,” Sal reiterated and he started to withdraw.
“Hold on, Sal,” Frank pushed himself out of the desk chair and crossed the room. “Why don’t you point them out?”
Sal led the way back to the kitchen door and gestured through the tiny pane of glass at Spiegel and Holcomb.
“Hm,” Frank grumbled again. “I’m curious.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Charlie and I are going to go around to the front. Pretend you don’t know us and seat us at the next table. I want to see how they react. You’re hungry, aren’t you, Charlie?”
“I could eat,” Charlie agreed.
Out in the dining room, Spiegel was disappointed to be offered Welch’s grape juice instead of wine. He opted for water instead. The host scurried past their table causing Holcomb to flinch.
“Relax, Holcomb,” Spiegel said under his breath. His eyes darted around the room and settled briefly on the face of each patron. None of them resembled the seedy underbelly that Spiegel had expected to find. It appeared to be a typical restaurant. The bell above the front door chimed and within a minute two men in smart suits were seated at the table behind Spiegel. One of them looked familiar and Spiegel tried not to stare as they passed by. Holcomb had the better view, but Spiegel couldn’t think of a logical reason for them to switch seats. Holcomb’s eyes grew a little wider and he tried to motion for Spiegel to look. Spiegel knew he couldn’t turn around in his seat. It would be so obvious, not to mention intrusive at a stage when they had yet learned nothing. He motioned for Holcomb to be quiet. The well dressed men quickly settled on ordering the day’s special and coffee. Spiegel turned his head slightly so he could hear the conversation clearer.
“So how’s the wife, Charlie?” Frank asked casually as he grinned. Charlie tilted his head and looked at the pair of schmucks behind Frank’s shoulder. The men didn’t speak to each other and the one looked white as a sheet.
“Oh, she’s finally back up on her feet. Thanks for asking. That last baby really knocked her on her ass,” Charlie said.
“Oh yeah, how big did you say that one was?” Frank continued to play along.
“Ten pounds,” Charlie replied.
“Jesus!” Frank exclaimed. “Certainly must take after you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Charlie reluctantly agreed. “Unfortunate for a girl, I suppose, especially if she ends up with a mug like this.” Frank chuckled and Charlie continued, “Her sister came down to help around the house while she had bed rest. I suppose she’ll be heading back inland any day now. She has a brood of her own to look after.”
Frank and Charlie carried on like this for the entire meal. They talked about trivial things, newspaper headlines, sport statistics, the weather. Spiegel tried to catch every word in hopes that it was some sort of code talk, but it was all mundane. Holcomb could barely force himself to eat and would occasionally let out a nervous laugh that sounded more like gagging.
Frank and Charlie finished their meal and got up to leave. Spiegel dared to glance up and met the dark eyes of Frank Sicero. The same eyes that stared out of his mug shot as if they burned. He gulped. As Sicero’s leering grin passed over their table on the way out. As soon as the door swung shut, Spiegel was out of his seat.
“Pay the tab, Holcomb,” he ordered as he rushed out of the dining room. He burst out on to the street, but didn’t see either man. He took a gamble and strode quickly down the block. He passed a big black sedan by the alley and stopped. He still didn’t see any sign of Sicero. He turned around and flinched as he realized the two men stood leaning against the car. Sicero took a cigarette out of his mouth as he sat on the fender.
“I think they have pretty good food there, don’t you?” Frank directed the question at Spiegel. “I noticed you didn’t eat too much. Although I suppose when you have to sit across from a guy like that you might lose your appetite.” Spiegel was caught off guard and it took a moment for him to regain his composure.
“The meal was adequate,” Spiegel stated. Holcomb exited the restaurant and spotted him. Spiegel gathered himself. He wasn’t going to quell in his boots like Holcomb. He was an agent of the Treasury and that came with certain responsibilities. He straightened up. “Perhaps I should introduce myself. Agent Spiegel of the Treasury.” He stepped forward boldly and held out his hand. Sicero still sat perched on the car fender and stared at the offered hand for a moment. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and stood up. He smiled and shook Spiegel’s hand.
“Frank Sicero. Welcome to the Coast. You ought to take in the sights down by the pier while you’re here,” he said. Spiegel nodded, but didn’t release Sicero’s hand. Holcomb came up to join them.
“I think I’ll be around town long enough to see all the sights and examine them closely, both above and below board,” Spiegel was wringing Sicero’s hand now. His grin forced. Sicero’s eyes narrowed as he tried to regain his hand. Charlie stepped forward threateningly close to Spiegel causing the agent to finally relinquish his grip.
“I’ll be seeing you around, Sicero,” Spiegel warned, “You mark my words.” He turned away and steered Holcomb down the street at swift pace.
“Do you really think it was wise to tell him who you were?” Holcomb blubbered. They rounded a corner and Spiegel turned on his partner with wild eyes.
“I’m not afraid of him! And you shouldn’t be either. We work for the Federal government, remember?”
Holcomb nodded in agreement only, because he was now half afraid of Spiegel.