We arrived in a tight alleyway about an hour later. A dumpster to my right threw pungent smells in our direction and Journeyman knocked twice on a metallic door, paused, knocked three times, paused, knocked two more times then paused and knocked twice more.
I heard shuffling from the other side and the clink of a bolt sliding. The green metallic door slid open and a man appeared in the gap clad in black pants and a grease-stained apron over a white shirt. I felt his eyes darting over Journeyman and me, sizing us up.
“You know,” he said. “We haven’t used that secret knock in months. It changed and I can’t let you in unless you know the right one.”
“Have a heart,” I said. “My friend is hurt and he obviously didn’t get the memo about the new knock.”
The man in the door took a step out. He propped the door open with one foot then looked at Journeyman’s shoulder and let out a low whistle.
“That does look bad,” he said. “You should get it looked at.”
“That’s why we’re here,” said Journeyman.
“I’d love to let you in but nobody gets in without the secret knock.”
“If the knock wasn’t right then you wouldn’t have opened the door at all,” said Journeyman. “If it’s a bribe you that want then just freaking ask for it. Kabirium, have you got a grand on you?”
I put my hands on hips and took a step back.
“What, did you forget your wallet?” I said.
“This is no time to be cheap,” said Journeyman. “Would you just pay the man before I bleed out?”
I grumbled under my breath then reached for my wallet and pulled out a crisp thousand-shilling note. The man at the door took it from me and held it up to the light then smiled, stuffed it in his pocket and moved aside from the door.
Journeyman and I bundled past him into a dark corridor with fluorescent lighting and through a door on the right. It opened up into a kitchen and we were met with a flurry of activity.
Chefs and sou-chefs alike stood by stoves, stirring contents in pots and chopping vegetables at lightning-fast speed. They all wore white aprons save for one woman who wore black with a floral pattern of green vines creeping up under her arm.
Short and busty, she made her way from workstation to workstation, inspecting everything that went on.
“No, no, no!” she screamed at one of the chefs. “There’s enough salt in there to salinate a lake!”
The chef bowed low and she was already at the next work-station before he could even get his apology out.
“And you!” she said to the next chef, a short woman who could barely reach the counter. “You’re making fruit salad, not trimming a hedge. Cut those pieces smaller. Bite-size, woman, bite-size!”
The woman shrunk in fear as Black Ivy reached across her and picked a meat-cleaver off of the knife-rack on the table.
“And do you know what I absolutely cannot stand?” she screamed, loud enough for everyone in the kitchen to hear. “Intruders in my kitchen!”
She pulled the cleaver over her shoulder and threw it in our direction. I froze as the cleaver sliced through the air, tumbling hilt over blade as it closed the distance between us. I closed my eyes, expecting the worst, and heard a crunch as the blade embedded itself in flesh and bone. I opened my eyes again and turned to look behind me.
Standing just over my shoulder, with the meat cleaver embedded in his skull, was a man dressed in all-black from his lace-less shoes up through to his black sleeves and all-black ski-mask.
His hands came up to his face and he clawed at his forehead in an almost comical way before collapsing on a heap.
“Don’t worry, Journeyman,” said Black Ivy, with a cheeky smile on her face. “I wasn’t talking about you.”
“You did say that I’m always welcome here,” he said.
“Yeah, but I didn’t think that you’d bring company.”
Journeyman pointed down at the dead man whose blood was starting to pool at our feet.
“Who? Him?” he said. “He’s not with me. That’s actually what I’m here to talk to you about.”
Black Ivy put her hands on her hips.
“I can spare a minute or two,” she said. “Jackson,” she called out. “Jackson!”
The man who let us in at the door appeared, holding his head low.
“Yes, madam head-chef,” he said.
Black Ivy pointed at the dead Shadow at our feet and shot him a cold stare.
“Do you care to explain how this filth got into my kitchen?”
Jackson looked at down at The Shadow and shuffled uncomfortably on his feet.
“He knew the secret knock,” said Jackson.
Journeyman looked at Jackson with his head tilted and Black Ivy sighed.
“Whatever,” she said. “Pick up his body and bring it to the meat locker. I’m sure we can find use for him. He’s got a nice-looking rump. Journeyman, come with me.”
She led Journeyman and me to a heavy metallic door at the corner of the kitchen and keyed a code into the number pad beside it. The door opened up and with a hiss as a cloud of cold mist came out. She went in with Journeyman on her tail. I stepped through after them and gasped.
Inside, hung on meat hooks going row to row were a stream of bodies, naked, frozen, human. I looked to Journeyman for guidance but he just acted like he didn’t see the rows of bodies hanging from the roof. Black Ivy smiled at them, and stroked the chops of a blonde corpse as she moved through to a mahogany desk at the back of the locker. She sat down behind it and motioned for Journeyman and me to sit on the chairs opposite it.
“So,” she said. “I see The Shadows are after you.”
“You don’t seem surprised,” said Journeyman.
“Nothing surprises me,” she said. “Plus, I heard rumours.”
“Nothing escaped you,” he said. “What can you tell me about it?”
Black Ivy reached into a drawer by her desk, pulled out a sewing kit then cleared the papers and files from the desk.
“First things first,” she said. “Lay down here and let me take a look at that shoulder.”
Journeyman took my sweater off of his shoulder and passed it over to me then laid down on the desk. The cold in the locker room bit through my skin but I resisted the temptation to put the blood-soaked sweater back on.
Black Ivy threaded the needle, dabbed some rubbing alcohol on it and leaned in to inspect Journeyman’s shoulder.
“Damn,” she said. “The Shadows got you good. I thought you were better than this.”
“The Shadows couldn’t hit me with an atomic bomb,” he said. “Crazy Daisy did this.”
“Crazy Daisy?” she said. “What were you doing with her? You know what she’s like.”
“Yeah but I needed information.”
“And you got a serving of blade instead. Serves you right after what you did to her.”
“That’s not important,” said Journeyman. “What can you tell me about The Shadows? They’re becoming a bit of nuisance.”
A buzzer sounded on Black Ivy’s desk and she pressed a button on its intercom. The heavy metal door opened up and a pair of white-apronned chefs came in, pushing the dead Shadow on trolley.
“Lovely,” said Black Ivy. “Strip him down and hang him up to dry. He’s tomorrow’s special.”
The two chefs nodded and as they got to work Black Ivy turned back to us.
“I’m not one to spread gossip,” she said. “But I always have my ear to the ground and I was a little worried when I heard that there’s a hit out on you. I wouldn’t have been so worried if I’d known that it was The Shadows.”
“I can handle them,” said Journeyman. “What I need to know is who put the hit out. I need to take that bugger down before he sends more competent hitmen after me.”
“I don’t know who it is,” said Black Ivy. “I’m sorry.”
“What now?” I asked him.
“Do me a favour,” said Journeyman. “Do you think that I could maybe take that Shadow off your hands? I hate to deny you those prime ribs but maybe I’ll figure something out if I examine the body. I doubt you’ll miss him. From the look of this place I’d say that you’re well stocked up as it is.”
Black Ivy rubbed her hand on her chin and shrugged.
“Okay,” she said. “Where would you like me to send him?”
Journeyman gave her my home address and I shot him a dirty look.
“What?” he said. “He’s dead. He’s a hardly a threat after what Black Ivy did to him.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But I’m not equipped to accommodate dead bodies.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll dispose of it when we’re done.”
I wanted to protest some more but Black Ivy put the sewing kit down and clapped her hands.
“All done,” she said.
Journeyman got up off the table and stretched out his shoulder, wincing at the pain. Black Ivy Ivy gripped him in a tight hug and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“Take care,” she said. “I know that you can handle yourself but if The Shadows do get to you then you should know that I have dibs on your body. I’ll turn you into a beautiful Sunday Roast and have all of your friends come round for one final feast with our favourite Journeyman. I think you know which piece Crazy Daisy wants.”
“Ha, ha,” said Journeyman. “Just remember to serve me with chilli. I refuse to be eaten bland.”
“Of course,” said Black Ivy. “Now get going. I have a meal to serve. Your body will be at the address you gave me some time later today.”
Journeyman kissed her on the lips, short and sweet, and led us out of the locker, through the kitchen and back out into the alleyway.
When we were outside I asked Journeyman about the bodies lined up in Black Ivy’s meat-locker-come-office.
“Did you smell the bacon cooking when we checked in?” he said. “That, my friend, was Grade-A long-pig.”
I thought back to the pink strips that we’d seen sizzling on pans and I threw up a little in my mouth.
“I told you that you don’t want anything she has to offer,” he said. “Now, I have some stuff to take care of. I’ll be back at yours sometime after sunset to inspect that body.”
With that, he turned on his heel and took off at a leisurely place up the alley. I watched him disappear around a corner then started in the other way towards where we’d left my car and stopped mid-step when something occurred to me: we still hadn’t figured out whether The Shadows left a bomb in my car or not.