"Spill the beans, little man," rumbled a voice. "Spill ’em or I’ll string my fiddle with yer guts."

"I told you already," snapped a second voice, "I don’t deal in beans. I’m not a farmer or a chef, and my name isn’t Jack! I’m a poor shoemaker, and I doubt you can play fiddle with those ham hands of yours. Have you ever had any musical education? Bah! I thought not."

There was a moment of silence while the first voice, who I suspected was a bit short on brains, considered the implications of all this.

"Well, look here," continued the first voice, "cough it up. Cough it up, see, or I’ll paste you in the kisser, see? Knock you into next week."

"No, I don’t see. And I’m not sure what I could possibly cough up, unless you’re interested in a lung or a bit of phlegm or some of my lunch. Corned beef with cabbage."

"Talk, you Irish cockroach, or yer lung’s mine!"

This was followed by a mysterious noise. A sort of damp, gurgling, rattling thg-thg-thg noise.

"What on earth is that?" hissed Maura in my ear.

"I think Person A has Person B by the throat and is shaking him like a hippy with a tambourine."

"Do something about it! Don’t just stand there like an idiot!"

I sighed. Checked that the safety was off on my gun. And tiptoed down the stairs. A lamp hung from the ceiling. Its light fell on the face of the shoemaker. His legs were windmilling through the air. His face looked a little green, but that was understandable because a huge gorilla had him by the throat. No. Not a gorilla. It was Joe Lugg.

"Where’s yer pot of gold, little man?" growled Lugg. "Spit it out, or I’ll snap yer neck like a wet French fry."

"Howth gnn eearrghle zorrgl-gl grmma?!"

"You talkin’ slop ’bout my gramma? I’ll count to three! 1. . . 2. . . "

Lugg seemed to flounder on the mysterious transition between 2 and 3. The shoemaker’s bulging eyes fell on me and widened.

"All right, Lugg!" I yelled. "Drop the shoemaker and put your hands up!"

He didn’t drop the shoemaker. Instead, he whirled around with one hand coming out of his coat. Lamplight shone on the dull black matte of his Glock. I gotta say, Lugg wasn’t the sharpest toothpick, but he was faster than a politician lunging for a shiny nickel.

I shot him in the chest. Three times. And then three or four times more for good measure, because he was looking kind of stubborn. He toppled over with a crash, squashing the shoemaker beneath him.

"Gemmoff! Gemmoff!"

It took both Maura and myself to roll the dead body off the little man. The shoemaker popped to his feet, spitting and swearing. He kicked Lugg in the side.

"Is that his blood?" said Maura.

We all stared at the floor. The shoemaker stopped kicking Lugg. A thick, green liquid seeped out from under the body.

"An ogre," mumbled the shoemaker. "A bloody ogre."

"True enough," I said. "Hope I put enough bullets in him. Ogres take a lot of killing. Sometimes you gotta kill ’em twice."

But the body didn’t twitch, even though the shoemaker kicked him a few more times.

"An ogre," murmured Maura, looking fascinated. "Are they always so pungent?"

"I suppose you’ll want your shoes for free now," said the shoemaker, not meeting my eyes.

"Hadn’t even thought of it," I said. Which was the plain truth.

"No?" he said, his voice sinking lower.

"No. Shoes are just shoes. They wear out."

"Mine don’t," he mumbled.

"The way I see it, I saved your life, not just two minutes ago. Me. Mike Murphy. That’s worth something in my book. Worth quite a bit. Maybe even a pot of gold?"

"Pot of gold?" His voice rose to a squeak. Sweat beaded on his forehead. "What, er, are you talking about?"

"1648," said Maura. "I think your sign says 1648, underneath all that grime. Finnegan and Sons has been around a long time. I bet that pot of gold’s gotten pretty big. Hasn’t it, leprechaun?"

He moaned and whined and wrung his hands until I felt my heart softening from the chunk of calcified road tar that it was. But Maura held firm. She’s not much of a sentimentalist unless there’s a practical reason for it. She did the bargaining and kicked me in the ankle when I tried to put in my two cents. After a while, I limped over to the stairs, sat down, and reloaded my gun.

"I can’t!" groaned Finnegan. "My pot of gold! My poor pot of gold. Why does everyone bother me? The love of money is the root of all evil. Don’t you know that? Save yourself from crass materialism! The consumer lifestyle leads to depression, dyspepsia, and broken marriages. I just read a study proving that. Harvard Psychology Department. They took rats and gave them unlimited cheese. The rats were so unhappy! And ungrateful, too."

"Spare me your Irish blarney," said Maura. "Hand over the pot of gold!"

That’s when they got down to serious bargaining. The leprechaun pointed out that the pot of gold was tied up in an IRA, diversified into blue-chip stocks, some excellent long-term municipal bonds, and various commercial real estate holdings. If he liquidated, he’d lose a significant percentage of the value. This tripped Maura up a bit, and I could see her hesitating.

"10%" I said.

"What?" They both turned and glared at me.

"10% of the shop’s take. Paid twice a month."

"What?" They both said it again, but the leprechaun turned white, and Maura began to smile.

"No!" shouted the leprechaun, hopping up and down in a frenzy. "I won’t have it! You know what the profit margin is in a pair of seven leagues boots? Or a pair of dancing shoes? Pennies! And you want me to split it with you? I’ll be ruined!" He started kicking Lugg’s body again.

They finally settled on 3% paid at the end of every month, with Maura given a look at the books once a year so we’d know whether or not he was cooking the accounts. Apparently 3% was not a bad deal for old Finnegan, because as soon as the negotiations were done, he chortled and handed over some good faith money, a wad of greenbacks thick enough to split my wallet. I imagine that pot of gold was quite a pot, and he was tickled to hold onto it.

"And my shoes?"

"Tomorrow afternoon," he sniffed. "Like I said."

That’s where I blew it. I should’ve spent a little more time thinking about Joe Lugg and where I found him. Some more time thinking about dogs and Louis Six-Fingers and old Hong Sho’s corpse. I should’ve searched Joe Lugg’s pockets, but I didn’t. I don’t know if the shoemaker did. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t recognize what he found.

Instead, I took Maura out to dinner. The sun was low and its light gleamed along the telephone wires and power lines like red fire. The sidewalks were still crowded with pedestrians, hurrying with their shoulders hunched and heads down. The taxicab drivers still yelled and cursed at whoever came into their sight, but they seemed to do it in a kindlier fashion.

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