Fiction Saturday – Untitled New Story – Part Two
I’m not much of a detective I guess. I rarely detect anything. Most things have to slap me in the face before I notice them. And then to string them together to come to some sort of conclusion – well, that’s pretty much dumb luck or the gopher I’m chasing gets stupid or lazy and drops it all in my lap. Detective? No, I’m more of a hog sniffing around until I walk right into the tree and dig up a truffle of proof. But I’m not stupid. I just let people think I am. It’s easier to get the truth out of them that way. They think I won’t know when they’re lying to me.
When this Redhead came through my door I knew immediately that playing stupid wouldn’t work with her. She was too smart and she wouldn’t stay two heartbeats if she thought I was dumb as a sackful of hammers or thought that she was the stupid one. She would spot any act and have me watching her shake it out the door.
After our third pouring we were both relaxed enough for me to start pressing a bit.
“Why are you coming to me with this? I mean, the police have a whole department called ‘Missing Persons’ just for things like this.
She looked at me over the rim of the mug. One eyebrow went up.
“Don’t try to kid a kidder, Okay? Those jokers couldn’t find their own butts using both hands and a mirror. Sure, I went to them to begin with, but all I got was, ‘We’ll look into it, lady, and some street corner cowboy comments they didn’t think I’d hear.
“Yeah, that sounds like them alright. I think the city automatically rejects anybody if their IQs hit three figures.”
“And anyway, my husband isn’t ‘missing.’ He is either dead or hiding somewhere. I need to know which.”
“It’s been two years since the plane crash – why not sooner?”
“Why? I was doing okay, cash-wise and I certainly didn’t miss him. I may be his wife, but I’m just one more trophy on the mantle to him. In between Yacht Club galas he pretty much left me alone. Pretty much – except when he was drunk. I haven’t missed that either. So, why now? Like I said, it’s mainly a cash thing.”
“Mainly,” a cash thing. I filed that away for later. If there’s no love lost between those two then they’re both finding it somewhere else.
“Adam liked to buy me jewelry, really nice – to sort of trim his personal Christmas tree. Since he walked off into the woods I’ve been weekending in New York a lot. I can get better deals there. In this town they can’t tell the difference between Harry Winston and Woolworths.”
“And now you’re running out of things to sell.”
“I’ve got nothing left but what you see here, earrings, bracelets and rings.”
She may have been hurting, but with just her earrings in my pocket I’d be able to buy a new car and not have to wait for “Double Coupon Day,” at the grocer.
She held out her mug with both hands.“Another splash, please?” I poured. She knocked it back like it was a ten-cent lemonade.
“Why me, I asked her again? “There’s a column and a half of Private Investigators in the Yellow Pages. Most of them have a lot more resources. I’m a one man operation. I don’t even have a full time receptionist.”
“One man means only one mouth. I want this to be kept quiet. You know, ‘Loose Lips Sink Ships,’ and all that. I need proof before I walk into that courtroom. If I hire one of those ‘We never sleep’ outfits it’ll be in the morning newspaper before my toast gets cold, and every weasel in town will be looking for a nibble of my pie. No, I’ve come to like sleeping on silk sheets. I not ready to go back to flannel quite yet. One man who has the reputation of being close to the vest is what I want.”
“Well, I’ll honest with you, Mrs. Cream – is that his real last name, ‘Cream’? Never mind.” I should have had a lunch that didn’t come out of a bottle. “ I’ll be honest – To do a search like you want, for someone who’s been missing…”
“…Gone to ground for two years. He’s got quite a head start. And he doesn’t want to be found. He is probably using an assumed name. He might not even be in this country any more. And that’s just if he’s still alive. If he’s dead…”
“If he’s dead I need proof – A certificate, a tombstone, a body.”
“After two years I’d bet on a skeleton. “
“Either way, dead or alive, I really don’t care. Well, financially I care, but personally – no. When can you get started? The sooner the better.”
“We haven’t discussed my fee yet. I charge…”
“Are you deaf? Are you blind? Even after two years I still have more stashed away than you’ll make in ten – no – twenty years. And if you can locate Adam, or what’s left of him, I’ll be the richest woman for a hundred miles around. I’ll pay double your fee – triple.”
So much for, “I’ve got nothing left but what you see here…” That was the second lie I’d caught her in. Truth from a client can be harder to find than The Lost Dutchman Mine or True Love on Shore Leave.
We finished the bottle. She left three hundred dollars, fresh and crisp, on my desk and staggered slightly on her way to the door, but with the limp it was hard to tell. She looked back at me over her shoulder. “I gotta pee. And for God’s sakes, use some of that money to buy some new clothes. Your suit looks like you stole it off a dead Gypsy. Now – get to work.”
With that she turned left toward the “Ladies” and the elevators.
Ginger Cream had said that she’d reported her husband to the Police “Missing Persons Department” to no avail. I figured I’d check in with them anyway to see if anything had bobbed to the surface, besides donut crumbs. I knew one fellow there, but he liked me even less than I liked him.
Before I fell asleep in my chair I jotted down a few ideas about where I might begin. I hoped I’d be able to read my handwriting in the morning – or afternoon. My head was complaining about the bass drum being played behind my eyes.
You gotta start someplace – tomorrow.