Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night (Really BAD story)

This is about on par with the average fiction story in The New Yorker. I wonder if I could make a career out of shitty writing.

It was a dark and stormy night. I was banging away on my typewriter in my office, writing up the report and the sad ending to the Lehman case. Crazy kook thought he could get away with a jewelry racket by using fruit as a cover. But his cover was eventually exposed, along with his innards. That was a messy ending. I take one last drag off my Chesterfield and start to cough my lungs out. Damn cigarettes. I make a memo to myself "Try chewing tobacco." My lungs need a break, along with the rest of me, but when you play this game there aren't any breaks, just broken bones and flattened noses. Hard work is what pays, and it keeps me in the gin, hold the tonic.
I shuffled over to the safe where I keep my files and guns and put the Lehman case in the back, hoping it'll gather dust and cobwebs that will never have to be removed again. I hate endings that way, especially when you're hired to protect the guy. Well, it wasn't that simple. I was also trying to find out what his jig was and keep him from hurting himself. If I'd only seen that banana peel in time and yelled for him to watch out, well, I'd be in a warm bed with a bottle of scotch getting a foot massage from a real knock-out. But that ain't for me. I never catch the guys who do it, I just help the police when they show up. If it weren't for me, those coppers would still be trying to spell the witnesses' names right and consulting a dictionary. This is how I make my living, but life ain't too good right now. It's cold November, but it's just warm enough to make it rain and not snow.
I put on my overcoat and hat, pat my pocket where I load my gun, and I head for the door. I see my secretary every night doing her nails and gabbing on the phone with her friends. One of these days I'm sure she'll get married, but between us it's strictly business.
"Night Ms. Moneypusher. I'm going off duty tonight."
"I thought you were always off duty each night?"
"No, each night I'm not fit for duty" I say with a grin. I barely make it out past the glass door that has my name on it when I see a dame dressed in black coming up the stairs looking worried. She must've seen me come out of the door to my office because she asked, "Excuse me, sir, are you Sam Chesterfield? The famous private eye?"
"It depends on who's asking, miss. Though that's the nicest query I've got in a while. Most of the questions asked to me end with a punch to the gut."
"Well, I was wondering if you could help me. I'd rather not talk about it out here, though, could we go into your office?"
"Sure, sure, I'll lead the way."
I trudged my feet in front of her and opened the door, cursing that I didn't become a lawyer like my old man. Damn, he would've been proud of me. And I would've too.

I got a good look at the dame. Dames, it was always dames. Dames thinking that their husbands were cheating, were gambling the rent, or that they had the wrong kind of friends that a man and husband should have if you get my meaning. But this dame was different. She had money and I could tell by my reflection in her diamond studded watch. Her nails had been chewed on, probably by her, and I saw a beautiful shiner underneath her rouge.

"Forget what I said, Ms. Moneypusher, I'll be working late tonight. You can go on home."

The dame went and sat down in the chair opposite my desk and took out a cigarette from a silver case. She nervously flicked the light and I offered her one of my matches. She was damn good looking, too good looking to come into my office. Dames like this don't have no husbands that cheat on them, or at least they wouldn't report them. Money is nice to have in a marriage, and if your husband likes having a mistress for the home and a wife for the public, well it's not something that hasn't been done before. Her hair was flax, and reminded me of my old flame Dana. Sometimes when I get lonely in the night, I reach out for Dana, and remind myself that she's never coming back. I sure do miss that old Golden Retriever.
"The reason why I'm coming here is because of my husband," the dame sighed.
"Oh yeah? What for?" I said.
"I think he might be missing."
"Well, what's he do?"
"He owns and runs the Chicago newspaper and several smaller papers in the area."
"Holy smoke! Are you telling me that your husband is the famous millionaire Fred Dulcet? And that he hasn't been reported missing by the police or the news?"
"I am, Mr. Chesterfield. I haven't had contact with him for quite some time. He was always away on business, or so he claims, but you know," and here she leaned in, "I always thought there was another woman. It wasn't until I went up to New York to visit my sister that we thought going to Gramercy Park near my hotel would be a fun afternoon. And then I saw him with another woman. He recognized me, I'm sure, but he made no face, didn't even look at me or speak to me, and I pretended I didn't recognize him either, but I was burning up inside. I..."
"Coulda killed him?"
"Well...not killed, but certainly given him a good licking. I felt like I put up enough just by being his wife and I didn't see why he should enjoy the company of other women, when he's rarely at home to enjoy my company."
"Well, we can come back to that later. What happened after the park?"
"I went back to my hotel, and when I'd finished the trip I came back home only to find out by our butler that he hadn't been home, nor rung, nor sent a letter to let us know where he was. I called the office to see if his secretary knew where he was, but she said that he was going away on a personal trip and he didn't leave any instructions. This was about a month ago. I haven't heard anything from him or about him, and I have every reason to suspect that he is dead."
"Huh, well, maybe he ain't dead at all. Maybe he's just having a time with his floozy, off at Niagra or on a big boat somewhere out in international waters where he can gamble all his money away. You take it from me, Miss Dulcet, I've tracked a lot of husbands. And they always come back, sometimes they're sorry and they never do it again, other times they go out the next month and repeat the whole thing over again. You listen to me, Miss, just go on home, get a good night's rest and call his office again. The secretary probably got her shorthand mixed up and his letter to you probably got lost in the mail."
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Chesterfield, because I received a letter just yesterday that had only this in it" and with that she held up a small, rusty key.
"Looks like someone forgot to give it back to you when they decided to quit cooking for you."
"I think not, Mr. Chesterfield, I'm afraid this is blood."
I took the key from her and turned on my light. It was blood alright, and who ever handled it had bled pretty good all over it. Blood was caked on it and flaking off.
"Did anyone else handle this, Miss Dulcet?"
"No, only me, but I didn't handle it with my barehands once I realized what was on it."
I gingerly used my pencil and put the ugly thing on my blotter. I hate bleeders. And this case didn't seem like it was going to end with a man who had all of his blood in him. I pulled out my magnifying glass and started looking at the teeth. I had to flake off some of the dried blood, but there were scratch marks all over the insides of the teeth, like someone in a hurry tried to open something locked. Or considering what was all over the key, tried to lock themselves in.
"Tell me, Miss Dulcet, did your husband have any lock boxes or safe deposits?" A shake of the head. "Well, safes or vaults at home? Closets or small rooms where he kept valuables hidden and locked?" Another shake. "Luggage claim?" Another no. "Miss Dulcet, have you ever seen this key?" No. "Well, I'll need a list of who saw your husband last and I'd also like to drop by your house tomorrow afternoon to have a look around." "I already have a list, since I also tried to contact everywho who he knew." I smiled, this dame was sharp AND a knockout. I took the list and put it in my safe, put on my hat and coat and said, "Well, I'll walk you out, Miss Dulcet." As we passed by my secretary's empty desk I lowered my voice and mummured, "You do realize that we have to notify the police. One month and nobody's noticed, that'd be awfully fishy if he did end up hurt or worse and you didn't report it." "Oh, please, Mr. Chesterfield," she gasped, "his affair would ruin his reputation, and I somehow know that woman will be exposed in the papers as his mistress! These things always have a way of getting out!" "That could be, Miss Dulcet, but we'd be taking a mighty big risk by not doing it. Whaddya say we assume that he's off somewhere having a good time with a bird? That way we can at least plead ignorance to a magistrate or a court."
"Oh, Mr. Chesterfield! You don't think we'll have to testify or anything, do you?"
"Could be, Miss, could be. In my line of work, I usually end up testifying against more than for. And Miss Dulcet, I'm rather tired of seeing the same police sergeants and judges question my work and how I got my proof. But I don't break laws for my job, Miss."
"Well what do you break laws for, Mr. Chesterfield?"
"Heh, maybe another time, huh? My standard rates and expenses will apply."
"Thank you, Mr. Chesterfield, and there will be a bonus for you if you do find my husband. I care for him deeply, and I don't want to see him hurt, but I am fearing the worst."
"Sure thing, Miss Dulcet. Well, here we are."
"Thank you."
And with that the dame took off in a chaffeured Cadillac taking up half the damn block. Me, I took off on foot for Tom's Diner where I do my best thinking and eating. Funny how those go hand in hand. I couldn't figure it out. What angle was this dame playing? Did she really expect me to believe that this was the only time he'd been gone or that this was the first time she'd known about him having a mistress? Women had a knack for knowing these things, wives especially. Half the time, when I had to show a woman in my office the in flagrante proof of her husband storing his eggs in another hen's nest, they'd yell, "I knew it!" and attempt a divorce. The other half would storm out of the office in disbelief and refuse to accept that it was their husband playing pattycake with a new playmate. But none, absolutely none, showed surprise on their faces. This little dame knew her man was footsying around, and probably turned a blind eye to it every once and a while, after he'd given her a new diamond ring, but something had to be different for her to actually seek out seedy old me and not the police. There was something else to this whole thing. And a millionaire like that not having any keys to a vault or safe, but out of the blue drops a bloody key that looks like it's to a padlock. Something wasn't right, but I had other things to think about. Namely my stomach.
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