I couldn't help myself and rolled the dice (pressed the random buttons) again for Chuck Wendig’s last fic challenge.
This time I got:
genre - 9 hardboiled
setting - 10 a popular nightclub on Friday night
conflict - 1 revenge
aspect to include - 3 a bad dream
theme - 2 love will save the day
Again, I had to look up hardboiled. Oh, right… Maltese Falcon.
Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre sharing the setting with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Although deriving from romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehension, horror and terror, and awe, the hardboiled fiction deviates from the tradition in the detective's cynical attitude towards those emotions. The attitude is conveyed through the detective's self-talk describing to the reader (or - in the film - to the viewer) what he is doing and feeling. The genre's typical protagonist was a detective having to witness on a daily basis the violence of the organized crime flourishing during the prohibition, and having on the other hand to deal with the legal system that had become as corrupt as the organized crime itself, making him a burnout hero. [from Wikipedia.]
The German accountant
My client was money. Lots of money. It dripped off her with every wave of her perfectly manicured hand. Took her a while to get down to business. Took her a while to sit, too. She almost dusted the chair seat before she sat down.
I fumbled for my cigarette case. Offered her one, she shook her head, no.
I stood, back against the frame and looked out the window for as long as it took me to smoke that cigarette and then I sat on the corner of my desk. The corner closest to her. I gave her a look. She was worth a stare.
She was slim and petite but looked durable. Expensive clothes. Blond hair parted in the middle and cut shorter than the fashion. Her mouth was thin. She used bright red lipstick to make it look better. It didn’t. She sat like a lady with her feet folded out to the side. I didn’t think she was a lady. The chauffer waited outside for her. I’d seen him from the window. She had money, all right, but it was new money. Maybe from daddy.
Right now she was in trouble. Husband trouble.
She gave me the details. I asked some questions.
“Twenty five dollars a day, plus expenses,” I said before she got weepy.
I didn’t ask how she got my name. I knew. A recommendation. I worked alone. Didn’t have a secretary. I kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t gonna talk. Her reputation and her money were safe with me.
I thought about putting up my rates for special cases. Cases that could afford it. Nah. I was what I was, and it wasn’t expensive.
I went to the address she gave me and saw the husband leave in a dark sedan. He matched the photo she had given me. He did normal husbandly things. Went to the office. Had lunch with a client. Went home.
It was after midnight when he got in his car again. I followed him to three different addresses. At each one he left after another person did. Meetings. Assignations. Whatever you wanted to call them. He was meeting them it seemed.
He was a busy man. Not all women, so it wasn’t sex.
I didn’t see him carry anything in or take anything out. No brown paper wrapped books of porn. But it could have been small. Drugs, maybe?
I followed the last guy he met back to his place. It was almost dawn and I needed a new lead. Looked like a nice suburb. Quiet. Small houses. Comfortable, not rich.
As I sat, studying the houses, there was a streak of light; a hot, hard flash and then nothing. A gunshot. I knew it when I saw one. I thought about it. Then I got out of my car and hot footed it inside. The door of the small bungalow was unlocked. The back door open. The shooter gone. The dead guy was dead. His ID read Boris Mecklenburg. He was an accountant at a big firm. Two glasses on the coffee table. One stained with bright red lipstick. I wiped everything down that I touched.
I drove to the nearest drugstore and bought a quart of bourbon. I sat in my car in the driving rain and drank a few mouthfuls until the bitter taste in my mouth was gone.
I watched the sun rise and I thought of another mouth with bright red lipstick.
I drove back to the bungalow to check. No cops on the scene. After watching for a while I went back into the house. The body was gone. The room had been cleaned. The glasses were squeaky clean in the dish drainer. Nothing in the trash. Nothing. Someone had taken it with them. A pro job.
I checked I had my gun with me and that it was loaded.
I knocked on some doors and asked some questions. The bungalow was a rental.
I looked up Mecklenburg at the library.
I drove back to the home address. The husband’s car was parked in the drive; I snuck close and shone a flash on the licence holder. I read the registration name. I swore.
I rang my client and told her to meet me at my office in an hour. I spent the hour looking up my client and her daddy at the library. That visit earned a few angry words. She had given me a fake name. I kept my mouth shut, but only just.
I told her she was a dope.
She told me she wasn’t paying me for advice.
I asked her if she had been at the bungalow and she denied it.
She left in a slam of doors. Took effort to slam my office and the reception room doors. I took a few more swallows of my bourbon.
I started at the beginning again. Followed the husband. Asked a few questions. Paid a snitch. Expenses. That got me a name here, a friendly apartment manager there, a picked lock, and a tailed car. It took me all day. I rang my detective contact. He was busy getting a car out of the harbor with a body in the trunk.
I had all the info. I just couldn’t put it all together. I needed a drink. And some time to think.
I had spent more than forty eight hours following him and asking questions. Did he sleep? I know I didn’t.
The bar was my favourite haunt. But the rain was hard and wet and the queue to get in was long. The joint was crowded and noisy. Friday night. I had forgotten what day it was.
Jimmy the bouncer nodded at me and let me in. My usual table was taken by a little man with cheap glasses and an expensive brunette. I took a booth up the back. I leaned on my arm and watched the show. On my second drink, my eyes closed.
The broken pieces of the case flitted around like gulls. Numbers written on the body of a dead accountant. A naked girl wearing earrings and bright red lipstick. A too tall man in a powder blue suit. A slim and pretty boy chauffer, an old man in a wheelchair and a Buick with a body in the trunk. A rich blond bleeding money.
The memory gulls cried and flapped. They got louder. They flew into my face. My arms flailed to keep them away from my eyes.
I screamed and they swooped away to peck at the pieces of the case.
The pretty boy kissed the naked girl and then split in half. One half got in the driver’s seat of the Buick and the other half shot himself in the head and then climbed in the trunk. I chased the naked girl. I kept asking her if her earrings were jade. No, they’re German she said. The naked girl took off the earrings, wiped her lipstick on blue suit guy and vanished. Blue suit guy pushed the wheelchair down some stairs. The earrings appeared in his hand. The wheelchair wreckage vanished in return. The red lipstick looked like blood.
I woke with a start, as someone screamed my name.
My client was face first on the table top in front of me.
“Drop the knife,” Betty said in her ear.
“Hey, Betty,” I said.
“Hey, Sam. She was going to stab you in the back.”
“Figures. You saw her from the stage?”
“Yep.” She pressed hard on the blond’s twisted arm. A flash of pain crossed her face. “Who is she?” Betty asked.
Betty snorted. “You can pick ‘em.”
Jimmy, the bouncer was there by then and Tony, the manager. “Call the cops,” I told him. “Ask for Detective Jefferson. No-one else. They’re all crooked.”
Jimmy watched the poisonous blond. I trained a gun on her under the table. Safer that way.
Betty sat on my lap. It didn’t help my thinking. The band started playing when it was clear the show was over and Betty wasn’t coming back.
When Jefferson arrived, he asked, “Who’s the blond?”
“Detective, may I introduce Tiffany, daughter of John Athelstan Riley.”
“The inventor in the wheelchair?”
“That’s the one.”
“She shot your accountant.”
“I wish she would.”
“I mean the body in the trunk, Boris Mecklenburg.”
His eyes narrowed. “How-?”
“Never mind.” I lit a cigarette. “Tiffany here married Joey Camino last year. It was in all the society pages.”
“I know. He still is. I spent all day trailing after him. Maybe daddy didn’t know.”
“Daddy likes him,” she interrupted. “He listens when he talks about his machines.”
“She hired me to tail her husband. She thought he was cheating on her. He is. With her pretty boy chauffer.”
Betty made a face. “Ouch.”
“She gave me a fake name, but I’m a good detective. She and Joey were stealing Daddy Riley’s plans and selling them to the German government. Boris the accountant was their contact. But hubby got greedy and thought he could cut her out of the deal and Tiffany got annoyed.”
“So she shot Boris?” Jefferson asked.
“Yeah. Came back later with help to get him in the car.”
“Did she kill her husband, too?”
“Didn’t need to. That’s my fault. I told her he was having an affair with the boy. All she needed to do was tell the mob.”
“They don’t like nancy boys.”
“No. And then she came here to tie up her last loose end.” I kissed Betty’s cheek. “If it wasn’t for my girl, here, I’d be dead too.”
“No one stabs my man in the back, except me.”
Jefferson laughed. “Evidence?”
“The scene has been cleaned, but he was shot at his place. I’d ask Daddy’s servants. One of them must have helped her clean up the scene and get rid of the body. The trash has been dumped. I’d try the neighbour’s bin. There must be something in it or they wouldn’t have taken it.”
“The gun?” suggested Betty. “She didn’t just shoot you.”
I kissed her. “You are so smart.”
“Too smart to marry you.”
“And I’m too smart to ask.”
Jefferson cuffed Tiffany and led her away.
I sighed. “There goes two days’ pay plus expenses.”
“Oh, Sam,” Betty said. “Get the money up-front next time.”
“You done for the night?”
“I can be.”
“Good. I’m tired. We’re going to your place.”
“You just want me for my mattress.”
“Now Betty, what kind of detective would I be to believe that?”
“I saved your life.”
“And I will thank you in the morning.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
© AM Gray 2013