This one you can blame on Barb Taub. She got me to thinking about channeling Raymond Chandler. I tried and failed miserably. But here it is anyway. If you have any bitch, contact her at: https://barbtaub.com/ and leave me out of it.
How I Became a Detective
My name is Spade, Sam Spade. Not really … it’s Herbert Walker, and I am a PI, a peeper, a gumshoe, a shamus, a private dick. You know, a private detective, and I work out of Hollywood. No, not that Hollywood; Hollywood, Florida—although sometimes my business will take me as far afield as Fort Lauderdale. It’s just that Sam Spade, along with Philip Marlowe, have been heroes of mine since I was a little boy and first read of their dangerous exploits. I am unmarried and have no dependents. I have always been shy around women, so it was easier to go home after work and read a good detective novel than to go out and try to meet a good woman.
I wasn’t always a detective. I used to be an accountant with Monroe and Monroe until one day the FBI, DEA, and the IRS swept into our offices and led Mr. Monroe, along with the other Mr. Monroe, out in handcuffs. I was told that it was the culmination of a six-month investigation, and it was known that I was “clean.” So I was allowed to go my own way, which at the time was very satisfying news indeed. However, when things had settled down a bit, and I was able to ponder my future, I realized that here I was, thirty-three years old and unemployed. And there was no possibility of a reference, seeing as how both Monroes were being held without bail. I didn’t think a request to see them in their prison cell for the purpose of getting a reference would get me very far. I’m sure they had far more pressing concerns on their minds.
Then it occurred to me that it wasn’t the catastrophe I thought it was. In fact, it was an opportunity to do something I had wanted to do all my life—become a detective. So I went to bed with images of busty blondes and found diamonds dancing in my head as I fell into a restful sleep.
The next morning, I set about fulfilling my dream. My plan was to use my savings to get an office and advertise my services. Then I would just wait for the clients to roll in. However, before I even left the house, I remembered that both Sam and Philip were always being threatened with the loss of their license by some hard-nosed lieutenant on the force. If even back in the 30s and 40s there were detective licenses to be lost, then how much more cumbersome would it be to obtain a license today, considering the paperwork and the prolificacy of hard-nosed lieutenants. I was soon to find out.
Thank God for the internet. From the comfort of my rental apartment, I ascertained the requirements.
They weren’t too rigorous, but it would take a while to comply with them. Like two years! Yes, two years’ experience working for an agency or the college equivalent. And a surety bond! With my meager savings, that was out of my reach. I was in a hurry to start rescuing damsels in distress and taking care of the bad guys. I didn’t have two years to waste. What was I going to do? Bulldog Drummond would not have been dissuaded by these minor obstacles, and neither would I. The state would allow one to work as an investigator without a license as long as it was as an intern at a licensed agency.
Luckily, I was still at my computer. I went to the state database of Private Investigator licenses and made a list of those licenses that had not been renewed and whose last known business addresses were in close proximity to my abode.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I ran down a man who had retired years ago and was living in what we used to call a nursing home. Today they are called Assisted Living Facilities. His name was Carl Peterson.
When I inquired of the young lady at the reception desk if I could see Mr. Peterson, she beamed a hundred-watt smile in my direction and said, “Oh, Mr. Peterson will be so pleased to have company.” She got on the loud speaker and hailed a Miss Sweeny to the front. I was told that Miss Sweeney would escort me to Mr. Peterson and that I could await her arrival in the waiting area off to the right. Thanking her, I left to take up my vigil for Miss Sweeny.
She was a perky young thing, was Miss Sweeney. No more than eighteen and wearing a badge that proclaimed her to be a “Volunteer.” How nice. She zeroed in on me and in a breathless, sexy kind of voice (far too sexy for one of her tender age), she said, “If you will follow me, sir, I’ll take you to Mr. Peterson.”
I was tempted to quote Shakespeare and say, “Lay on McDuff.” But in the end thought better of it. After all, I was champing at the bit to get detecting and did not want to slow things up by explaining to this very nice young lady who William Shakespeare was. As we walked the halls, she told me Mr. Peterson was in the dayroom watching television with his friends.
When we entered the room, dayroom that is, I noticed that some of the inhabitants may have already passed on to the Great Beyond. A few of the conclave looked as though they hadn’t moved in a generation, but that was no concern of mine. I was there on business.
Miss Sweeney walked up to a man slouched in an armchair, not looking at the television that I’m sure had some inane program on, but staring at the blank wall before him. He was wearing pajamas under a bathrobe that was unfastened and hung open. He looked comatose to me, but Miss Sweeney bounced up to him and with a twinkle in her voice and, perky as ever, said, “Mr. Peterson, have I a treat for you! This nice young gentleman has come for a visit.”
If Mr. Peterson thought my visit a treat, he hid it well. Either that or whatever held his interest on the wall was more important to him than my miserable presence. He did not look at the comely Miss Sweeney as he said in a feeble voice, “Why don’t you all just leave me to die in peace?”
Miss Sweeney laughed as she said, “I know you don’t mean that. I’ll leave you men alone so you can talk boy talk. Then she left the dayroom, ignoring reality as most eighteen-year-olds do.
I stood there for a moment thinking that this had been a wasted effort and that I’d have to scare up another old codger if I wanted to work under an existing license. As I started to turn away, I heard a not-so-feeble voice say, “Where ya goin’, sonny? I thought you wanted to converse with me?”
Turning back, I informed my ill-mannered host that he had made it crystal clear my company was not wanted, and it was my intention to leave him alone to die in peace. With a short laugh he retorted, “That’s just an act I put on for the help. I’d be pleased to jawbone with ya for a spell. Hell, I ain’t got nothin’ better to do; this here wall lost its fascination for me a long time ago.”
As I looked around for a place to sit, he stood, cinching his bathrobe about him, and told me to follow him. “Let’s get us some fresh air; a body can’t breathe ’round here.” What was there to do but trudge after him? After all, I still wanted to be a detective.
He led me to an area encircled by three very large oak trees. It’s probably why they called the place Oakwood Manor. Under one of the trees were two concrete benches facing one another. Peterson pointed to one and politely invited me to sit down. By the time I had alighted, he was sitting straight and tall on the other bench.
“Well, sonny, what’s on your mind?”
The man who spoke those words was not the same man I’d met a few minutes earlier. His piercing blue eyes were focused and stared right into my own eyes. In fact, I had to avert my gaze; he seemed to be reading my mind. But that was silly. There was no way he could know why I was there. Looking in his general direction, but not into his eyes, I squared my shoulders and told him what I had in mind.
When I had finished, he said nothing. He just sat there with a thoughtful look on his face. Finally, he said, “So, you want to take a short cut? And what makes you so sure you could detect yourself out of a brown paper bag?”
Obviously this gambit failed, or at least it had with this individual. Rather than answer his pointed questions, I told him I was sorry for wasting his time and stood to leave.
“Hold on there, sonny. First of all, I’ve got nothing but time, so don’t let that worry you. And if you’re going to be a detective, you’re gonna have to have a little thicker hide on ya.”
Now I was confused, but I sat back down and looked earnestly at him (at least I hoped I had an earnest look on my face) and asked, “I don’t understand. Are you open to my proposal or not? I’ll pay you a percentage of my income if you will reinstate your license and allow me to work under it.”
“Yes,” he rejoined, “I heard you the first time.”
Then he smiled and leaned back, “What’s your name?”
“It’s Walker, sir. Herbert Walker.”
“Well, Herbert Walker, maybe we can make a deal. Detecting is not like Chandler and Hammett wrote about. There are very few long legged blondes involved—more’s the pity. Most of the work is skip tracing and background checks with an occasional missing person case thrown in for good measure.”
After a yawn and a stretch, he continued, “You’re going to need more than my license. You’re going to need the expertise I’ve accumulated in over forty-eight years of detecting both as a cop and as a private dick. So here’s my deal. I’ve got all the money I need. I’m only here because, a few years back, I fell and broke my hip and couldn’t take care of myself, so I went along with my daughter—who never visits me by the way—and allowed myself to be shuttled to this graveyard-in-waiting. And the first thing she did was finagled me into signing a Power of Attorney form when I was buzzed out on pain pills. Then she sold my house out from under me. I guess the only thing I can say for her is that she didn’t keep the loot; she deposited it into my bank account. So, money is not the problem. The problem is that I’m slowly going crazy. If you want a full partner, then you’ve got yourself a deal. It’s up to you.”
I had listened to his spiel with polite attention. What he said did make sense, but still I envisioned a solitary office. Then again there was “Spade and Archer.” Maybe we could work a deal.
He must have been reading my mind because he said, “My name is on the license. You can’t call it Peterson and Walker or Walker and Peterson. But I don’t give a damn what you call it just as long as I’ve got something to do. Why not call the firm ‘Private Investigations, Inc.?’ It’s classy, and no snoop from the state will come around asking why your name is on the firm’s letterhead.” The long and the short of it was we shook hands and became partners.
It took me a few days to find the right locale for our office. I wanted a walk-up office over a semi-seedy bar. I thought the atmosphere would be good for business. You know, give the aura of underhandedness so the underworld would more readily trust us. But try as I might, I just couldn’t find an office located over a bar of any sort, seedy or otherwise. So, I had to settle for a place over a hardware store. But there was a seedy bar half a block down the street.
It was one of those buildings built back in the twenties just before the land bust. The place had not been rented in a while. There was a fine film of dust over everything. And “everything” consisted of an old wooden desk, two file cabinets (empty), and two client chairs. There was one window that overlooked the street in the 25’ x 30’ room. There was also a bathroom/closet off to the side that one person at a time could fit into. But then again, how many people does one want in the bathroom at any one time. The office also had the additional benefit of having a two-room apartment next door. I thought it would be just right for Carl (we were now calling one another by our Christian names). It was a two-story building and the office and apartment covered the entire second floor.
By the time I found the office and signed a lease, Carl called me and told me we were in business. His license had been reinstated and the bond was in place. I, in turn, told him I’d pick him up the next day and bring him to the office and show him around. I didn’t tell him about the apartment because I wanted it to be a surprise.
The next thing I had to do was advertise our wares. Let people know we were around. I checked with the local newspaper, but they wanted $300.00 dollars a day for a little three-square-inch ad! After I hung up, I realized that I hadn’t thought of how the ad should read. The lady in the advertising department at the newspaper said a three-square-inch ad would catch the eye and was more apt to bring in business than an ad in the classifieds.
So, I set about designing something that Sam or Philip might have done in my place. What do you think?
Then I had to find a publication in which to place the ad that would not bust my budget. The deal I had with Carl was that he would take care of the license fee and the premium for the bond and contribute his expertise. I, on the other hand, would cover the rent, cost of advertising, and do most, if not all, of the leg work.
Now, I’m not much of a drinker, but I thought I should start spending time at the bar down the street. I had to start cultivating my underworld contacts and maybe, just maybe, I might get a clue where to place my ad so that the “right” people would see it. The right people being, of course, people in trouble with ne’er-do-wells.
Before I even went inside the bar, I saw what I was looking for. In a paper rack outside was a publication entitled “City Streets, The Dark Side.” I picked up a copy; it was quite hefty for a free paper. So, without further ado, I took said publication back to the office, opened it to the page that gave the advertising department’s phone number, and made the call.
I was informed I could have a three-inch-square, black and white ad for $75.00 for the week (they’re published weekly) if it was camera ready. If not, there would be an additional $25.00 one-time charge. It sounded fair to me, so I closed up the office and headed across town to place the first of what I thought would be many advertisements for our detective agency. I liked the sound of that, our detective agency.
I gave the girl at the counter the copy of the ad I had written by hand and waited for her to squeal, “Oh, so you’re a private detective!” But she did no such thing. Instead she was very business-like and made a suggestion that I not include the phone number. She told me that I may get too many inquiries of the not-serious sort. She said I’d be surprised at the time some people have on their hands with nothing better to do than harass innocent people. She went on to suggest that I use our street address in that it would separate the curious from the serious customer. I had to inform her that in our business our clients were clients and not customers. She smiled at that and said, “Whatever.”
We were in luck. The paper was coming out the next day and I had made the cut-off deadline, so the ad would be in the next edition. Now that I had taken care of that, all I had to do was sit back and wait to be inundated by people seeking our help. I went home that night and called Carl. After a short delay, he came on the phone and told me not to bother picking him up the next day. He was feeling a little under the weather. “It was probably the goddamn Salisbury steak we had at lunch. I can’t wait to get out of this goddamn place!”
I told him about placing the ad and that by this time tomorrow we’d have our first few clients. He told me to hold on, things didn’t work that fast. He said the ad may take months to bring in even one client. He went on to say that, in the next day or so when he was feeling better, he’d go to the office with me and make a few calls to some old cronies, see if he could scare us up a little business. He rang off with the admonition not to be disappointed if there wasn’t a crowd outside the office tomorrow when I got there. I told him I didn’t expect a crowd, but during the day someone would respond to our ad. And you know, I wasn’t that far off.
Of course, no one showed up the next day. But the day after that, there were four letters waiting for me when I arrived at the office. With trembling hands, I picked them up off the floor and carried them over to the desk as though they were a sacred sacrament. Once seated, I opened the first letter and a picture fell out. Must be a missing person case, I thought. Without looking at the picture, I put it off to the side for the time being. I wanted to read about the case first.
As I read the missive, my face must have turned a bright crimson, for the letter was obscene. Now my hands were trembling again, but for a completely different reason. Then I looked at the picture and could not believe what I saw. It was a picture of … of … I cannot bring myself to describe what I beheld. Suffice it to say that it was a portion of the male anatomy at full attention! I quickly dropped the picture as though it were on fire and brushed it and the letter into the wastepaper basket. Just someone’s idea of a joke, I thought. But no, the other three contained similar content, although only two had pictures enclosed.
Outraged, I collected the offending material, including what I had thrown in the wastepaper basket, and stormed out the door. What kind of publication had I associated myself with? I hadn’t bothered to read any of the articles; in fact I hadn’t even picked up a copy to see how our ad looked. I reached the bar and grabbed a copy from the rack and started to page through the vile sheet looking for our ad. As I progressed, I saw that the articles were prosaic in nature and quite harmless. Then, on the last page, there was our ad, down in the lower left-hand corner, surrounded by smaller ads in the conventional classified format, they were all in color. I liked the way our black and white ad stuck out, and for a moment forgot my anger as I stood there admiring that little three-inch advertisement. Then I remembered what caused me to pick up the paper in the first place and read some of the surrounding advertisements. I could not believe what I was reading. They were all of a sexual nature! How could my ad—our ad—be placed among such filth? Well, I was going to find out.
By the time I reached the paper’s office, I had calmed somewhat. I explained my consternation to the woman at the counter and showed her the page containing our ad and told her to read some of the surrounding ads. At that point, a small smile played across her lips and she asked me what kind of business I was in. “The private detecting business, naturally.”
She smiled again and said, “I think I know what happened. May I see the letters you received this morning?” I didn’t think she should see what I had read earlier and when she saw my hesitation she said, “Now, Mr. Walker, I must know all the facts if I’m to remedy your problem.” So I handed her the letters, but I held on to the pictures.
After reading the first two epistles, with that same slight smile, she looked up and inquired, “You mentioned pictures?”
My hand involuntarily went to the pocket that held the offensive images. Now she knew I had them on me. She stood there with her hand out, as though she were the teacher expecting the wayward student to spit his gum out onto her proffered hand.
Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I reached into my coat and withdrew said pictures. Once she had them in her hand, she gave them a quick perusal and, with her usual smile, placed them and the letters on her desk, saying, “I’ll dispose of these later; now, to correcting our little mistake.”
She explained to me what had happened. It seems the last few pages of their publication advertises things of an adult nature, and because of the wording of my ad, someone inadvertently placed the ad in the wrong section.
Of course, my first remark upon hearing that was, “How could anyone misconstrue so simple an ad?”
Shaking her head slightly, she said, “May I make a suggestion?”
I answered in the affirmative.
“Change Private Dick to Private Investigator and then we’ll place it in a different section of the paper … one more conducive to the clientele you hope to cultivate.”
“I don’t see how that can make a difference.”
“Mr. Walker, I’m the professional. Please take my advice and I think you will be pleased with the response you receive.”
Shrugging my shoulders, I acquiesced. And as I was walking away from the counter, I saw her pick up the pictures and approach one of her female coworkers; but I reached the door and was out of the building before I could see what transpired next.
Driving back to the office, I was feeling dejected because now I would have to wait another whole week before I could get to work as a detective.
In the rush to procure the office and get the advertising started, I had neglected one very important item. Namely, the “office bottle.” Both Sam and Philip kept a bottle in their desk drawer. I like to think it was bourbon, but neither of them specified their poison. So, on the way back to the office, I stopped at a liquor store and bought the cheapest brand I could find. I wanted a quart bottle like they had, but nowadays all you can get is a liter. I also picked up two small glasses. It would have been better if they were jelly glasses, but one cannot have everything.
Upon returning to the office, I entered the closet/bathroom and emptied half the bottle down the sink. I don’t drink hard spirits and I didn’t want a full bottle sitting on the desk. I wanted it to look as though I had just had a belt before the client walked in.
Then, without anything else to do, I put my feet up on the desk, tilted back in my swivel chair, and thought of cases to come:
I just had my second shot from the office bottle and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. This morning was dragging. I put my feet up on the desk and leaned back in my chair. It had been a long, hard night. I don’t like to kill, but sometimes it’s kill or be killed. The police had just released me after hours of questioning. The lieutenant let me go with these words, “Okay, Walker, I can’t pin anything on you this time. The DA says it was justifiable, but from now on, I’m keepin’ an eye on you and if you slip, it’ll mean your license.”
It was at that point in my musings that I heard the voice of an angel, “Can a girl get a drink around here?” I opened one eye and beheld her silhouetted in my doorway. She had more curves than a mountain road, and her legs … well they weren’t quite as long as the Mississippi, but they’d do.
Taking my feet off the desk, I straightened in my seat and said, “The bar’s open.”
She was standing with her left hand on a cocked hip. Her lip-gloss was bright red—blood red—as were her nails. She was dressed in black, the skirt ending at mid-thigh. Her shoes matched the dress; they were black and sported five inch heels. As I took all this in, she sauntered in my direction.
When she reached the desk, I pointed to the client chair and said, “Sit, Beautiful.”
While she settled in, I poured bourbon into the two glasses and handed her one. She took the glass without saying a word and looked at me from over the rim as she demurely sipped the amber liquid. I, on the other hand, downed the contents of my glass in one shot, placed it, empty, on the desk, and waited to hear her story. I did not have to wait long.
“Mr. Walker, you are the only person I can trust, and you are the only person who can help me. Please say you will!”
My reverie was interrupted at that point by a knocking sound. Someone said, “Are you the detective?” I opened my eyes to see her standing in the doorway. No, not the client of my dreams, this lady was in her seventies if she was a day, and she wasn’t much over five feet tall.
Shaking my head to dissipate the last vestige of the blonde, I stood and told my visitor that I was indeed the detective. She did not saunter towards my desk, but purposely walked up to me and held out her hand, “I’m Kathleen McNally and I have need of your services.” I shook her hand and asked her to sit down, which she did, and I did the same. Once seated, she wasted no time getting to the point. “Mr. Smith has gone missing and I need you to find him before he gets into trouble.”
Ah, a missing person case, I thought. Aloud, I said, “First of all, tell me how you found us.”
“I saw your advertisement in the free paper.”
“You mean you did not get the wrong impression?”
“How could I? Don’t you think I know what a private dick is?” Then she smiled and a blush came to her cheeks, “Oh, I see what you mean. I like glancing through that section, but I also read every detective novel ever written. Well, maybe not all of them, but enough to know what you were peddling.”
Thus ensued a lively discussion on the finer points of detecting vis à vis Sam Spade vs. Philip Marlowe. Then we talked about the writing styles of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. We even got modern for a bit and dragged in Westlake and Block. We went on as only two die-hard enthusiasts could, until simultaneously we came to the same thought—that it would be best to get down to business. She fumbled in her handbag for a while, as all women do, then she came up with a picture. Handing it to me, she told me it was a picture of Mr. Smith.
According to the picture, Mr. Smith was a young girl about sixteen with pretty features and long black hair. Noticing my quizzical countenance, Ms. McNally took the picture back and laughed as she looked at it. “This is a picture of my granddaughter. Her name is Cathy, she was named after me.” Then she added, “I have a problem with her that I think I’ll need your help on, but first let’s find Mr. Smith.”
“Yes, let’s find Mr. Smith, but it would help if I knew what he looked like.”
“How silly of me.” It was back into the bag, and before long she came up with another picture, which she handed across the desk. It was black and white. Not the picture, but the face staring out at me from the picture. Mr. Smith, it seemed, was a cat.
Holding the photograph in my hands, I turned it toward her and asked, “Is this Mr. Smith?” Hoping against all hope that she once again had pulled out the wrong photo. But no, it was indeed Mr. Smith. So, my first case was to be a missing cat? Please, God, no!
Mrs. McNally filled me in on the missing feline. “He disappeared two nights ago and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since. And I’m very worried. You see, he’s not an outdoor cat and he doesn’t know of the dangers associated with being outside. You know, cars and dogs and so forth.”
With a sigh, I nodded my head in agreement that the world could be a dark and dangerous place for an indoor cat who found himself out-of-doors. But then I added, “I don’t know if my case load will allow me to take on anything new at the moment.”
And that’s where she got me. Not as my imaginary blonde had done, with sex appeal, but with a sniffle and a single tear rolling down her right cheek.
“You know what? Maybe I can give it a little time. Why don’t I come by your place tomorrow about noon and I’ll see what I can turn up. Who knows, he may show up in the meantime. The smile on her face should have been payment enough, but when she asked what my rates were, I had to think fast because I had given no thought to what I should charge, so I said the first thing that came to mind: Philip Marlowe’s fee.
“Fifty dollars a day plus expenses.”
She gave me her address and her phone number along with a check for fifty dollars to cement our arrangement. I knew I would never cash the check; however, it would look nice hanging on the office wall. My first fee as a detective!
Before she left, I reminded her that she had said something about needing help concerning her granddaughter. “That’s right. She’s visiting me for the summer. Her parents sent her down here because she was falling in with a bad crowd and they thought if she got away for a while, and if I could introduce her to some nice young people, the grandkids of my friends and neighbors, she’d come back a little older and wiser.”
So far I saw no problem, but then she continued. “It wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. There aren’t very many young people where I live, in fact they’re non-existent. So, really, there was no one for her to associate with. Of course, once in a while, a grandchild of one of my neighbors would visit with his or her parents, but those times were few and far between.”
The expression on my face must have conveyed that I was starting to lose interest; hence, she hurried up and got to the point. “She’s taken up with a boy a few years older than she, and he’s not very nice. In fact, I’d say he was a hoodlum in training. He’s got her staying out late and it’s gotten to the point that she will not listen to me. If you can’t help, I’ll have to call her parents for one of them to come and take her back home. I don’t think I could get her to the airport by myself. She’s a willful young thing, and if she doesn’t want to go home, then she’ll have to be dragged onto the plane.”
“So, what is it you think I can do?”
“You can have a talk with the boy and warn him off like you detectives do. But you better be careful, he’s a mean one. You should probably bring your gat with you.”
“My gat? Oh, you mean my gun.” I didn’t think it was the time to tell her I didn’t own a gun and that, even if I did, pulling a gun on a teenager for the purpose of scaring him was, I’m sure, on some level, illegal.
We agreed to meet at her condominium the next day at noon. I walked her down the stairs and to her car, a massive 1970s Cadillac. Her eyes barely came even with the dashboard and she had to look through the rim of the steering wheel to see out of the windshield. Little did I know as she drove off that the next time I saw her she would be dead.
The next day I headed out bright and early to see Carl. I wanted to get his advice about the cat caper and see if he thought we should get mixed up with the granddaughter and the boyfriend.
This time I didn’t need an escort. The girl at the desk told me I could find him either in the dayroom or out on the grounds. I came upon him on one of the benches under the three oaks.
“Hello, Carl, I hope you’re feeling better today.”
“That’s good because I need your help. We got a client from the ad I placed, but I don’t know how to handle it.” I filled him in on Mrs. McNally and her two concerns, Mr. Smith and the granddaughter. When I finished, he did not look any too happy.
“Let me get this straight. You took money from this woman to find her damn cat? And by the way, what fee did you quote her?”
When I told him, he rolled his eyes and told me fifty dollars wouldn’t cover lunch nowadays. Then he gave me the advice I was seeking. Well, maybe advice is not the right word. It was more like he gave me my marching orders.
“The goddamn cat probably went out to get laid. When he gets his rocks off, he’ll go back home. Now, you go and see the old broad, give her the money back. Tell her you have your paid informants on the lookout for the cat and not to worry about a thing. Then get the hell out of there and come and get me. I want to see the office and I need to tell you a few things concerning the business—like, we don’t do missing animals!”
“I did turn her down at first, but she started to cry. What else could I do?”
“Jeeze Louise! Look Herbert, you’re a good kid, but you’ve got a lot to learn. Now get out of here. I’ve got to shower and get dressed. I’ll see you in about an hour.”
I left the place with my tail between my legs. I guess I did have a lot to learn, and I was lucky I had Carl around to teach me. But if all we were going to do was background checks and things of that sort, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be a detective. However, it was too soon to think of that.
I got to Mrs. McNally’s condo a little early, but I didn’t think she would mind. It was only a single, three-story building and there was no guard gate or anything like that. I parked in front of the building in a space marked “visitors” and proceeded to the third floor via the elevator. Her unit was 317.
Presently, I found myself in front of the right door; it was slightly ajar. I knocked and the door swung inward. I called out, “Hello, anybody home?” No answer, so I took a tentative step into the apartment and repeated my query. Still no answer. Then I took the plunge and walked in all the way. It was quiet, too quiet (as they say in the movies), and that’s not all. The place had been tossed. Cushions were off the chairs and couch, drawers were pulled out and they and their contents were strewn about the floor. I was standing in the living room and as I looked downward and to my left, I saw a pair of legs sticking out of the doorway to the kitchen. Of course, they belonged to Mrs. McNally, and of course, she was dead. She had been brutally beaten to death. It was, or I should say, she was, not a pretty sight. And seeing as how she was the first dead person I had ever seen, I’m surprised I didn’t run out of the apartment screaming. But I didn’t because the only thing going through my mind at the moment was the fact that she was my client. I owed her something. Maybe I couldn’t find the cat for her, but I was damn sure going to find her murderer!
When Philip Marlowe came across a corpse, the first thing he did was look for clues, usually by going through the dead man’s pockets. Unfortunately, Mrs. McNally had no pockets in the house dress she was wearing. And, besides, I already had a good idea who the culprit was. The scene was set to look like a robbery, and maybe it was, as an afterthought. However, I didn’t think a thief would go to the third floor to do his thing when there were plenty of unoccupied apartments on the ground floor, and they all had two ways of getting in: the front door or the sliding glass doors at the back of each condo. The condos on the second and third floors also had sliding glass doors, but there was no access to them unless one brought a ladder or could fly.
As I stood there wondering how to play my hand, my eyes fell upon a small piece of note paper attached to the refrigerator, and on said paper was the word “Cathy” along with a phone number. It was then that I knew what I had to do, and I was going to do it alone. I needed no help from Carl or the police. A nice little old lady had been killed, and because she was, at the time of her death, still my client, it was up to me to bring her killer to justice.
I took the granddaughter’s phone number from the fridge and placed it in my pocket. It was time to get out of there before someone happened along. I didn’t want to talk to the coppers until I could hand them Mrs. McNally’s killer all wrapped up with a bow. I closed the door and made sure the spring lock locked and went downstairs to my car.
I started the engine to get the air conditioner going and then I just sat there thinking. After a few minutes, I pulled out my phone and dialed the granddaughter’s number. She picked up on the second ring. “Hello, Cathy, my name is Herbert Walker. I work for your grandmother; she hired me to help her pick out a new car that she wanted to give you as a present. I just picked it up from the dealer and I’m sitting in it right now. The reason I’m calling is that I can’t seem to locate her at the moment. She called me first thing this morning and told me the car was ready and that I should pick it up. She was supposed to meet me at her condominium at noon. I’ve tried calling her and knocking on her door, but she isn’t around. I know she doesn’t have a cell phone (I was guessing), so I was wondering if you might know where she is.”
That was a lot to say in one breath, but it was even more to take in from a stranger. When I finished, there was a silence for about ten seconds, then she said, “A new car for me?”
“Yes, it was supposed to be a surprise, and I know I’ve ruined it for you, but I’ve got an appointment in a little while and I have to drop this car off somewhere. If you don’t know where your grandmother is, can I leave it with you?”
“Wait a minute.”
She must have muted her phone because there was no sound, then after two or three minutes, she came back on and I could hear a male voice in the background, though I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
“How did you get my phone number?”
“Your grandmother gave it to me. I needed it for the registration. The car is in your name after all.”
This time she didn’t mute her phone and I heard, “It’s all right. He got it from Grams; he needed it for the registration.” I figured the boyfriend was leery of gift horses, even when they came in the guise of a new car. I also figured it was time to get the show on the road. Therefore I delivered the clincher. “I can either drop it off to you now, or it will have to wait until tomorrow. I’m going to be busy the rest of the day.”
That got her. “No, no! I’ve give you the address.”
I heard her ask the boyfriend what the address was where they were. After a little background muttering, she came back on the line and told me she was at a motel on Federal Highway and gave me the room number, the name of the motel, and the name of the closest cross street. As it turned out, I was only five minutes away (the boyfriend must have picked the place to be close to Cathy).
“Thank you, Cathy. I’ll be there within the hour.” I didn’t want her hanging out in the parking lot when I drove up. If she saw my car, she’d be disappointed.
It turned out to be one of those little places that were built in the forties and fifties before the Interstate Highway System. And after they lost most of their business to I-95, they became a little seedy around the edges.
I knocked and the door opened about a foot to reveal a kid of about eighteen or nineteen. His hair was long and almost to his shoulders. It appeared greasy and unclean. His face sported no facial hair and he was wearing a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off, dirty jeans, and black boots of the type favored by motorcyclists. He looked like a Hell’s Angel wanna-be, or as Mrs. McNally had so aptly noted, “A hoodlum in training.”
“What’d ya want?”
“Is Miss McNally here? My name is Walker. I spoke with her a little while ago.”
He was standing in the doorway, his left hand on the doorknob, but when I identified myself, the door flew inward to disclose Cathy who had been standing (or hiding?) behind it. Pushing the boyfriend aside, she asked in a greedy voice, “Where’s my car?”
“Before I can turn it over to you, I have to see some identification. May I come in for a moment?”
The boyfriend didn’t seem to think that was a good idea and remained blocking the door. But Cathy wanted her car, so she invited me in and said she’d get her driver’s license. The boyfriend reluctantly stepped aside, allowing my ingress.
Once inside, and as Cathy was rooting around in her purse, I held out my hand to “Marlon Brando” and said, “I’m Herbert Walker, glad to meet you.” He said nothing. He just stood there trying to look tough. Cathy was back before things got too awkward and placed her license into my outstretched hand, saying while she did so, “This is Darrell. He’s not in a good mood today; you’ll have to excuse him. Now where is my car?”
I handed her back her license and said, “It’s over on the other side by the office. I wasn’t sure where your room was located. The keys are in it, all ready for you to take it for a ride.”
She ran out of the room with Darrell and me following in her wake. As we walked, I noticed that Darrell’s hands, his knuckles in particular, were scratched and bruised. That was all I needed to know.
When we rounded the corner, Cathy was standing there with a perplexed expression on her face. She was looking at a wreck of a car. It had rust spots, dents, and a faded blue paint job. The car was mine. She turned to me and said, “Where’s my car?” And the unspoken plea was, “Please, please let this not be it!”
I feigned astonishment and exclaimed, “It’s not here! I probably shouldn’t have left the keys in it. I’m sorry, I’ll call 911; whoever took it cannot have gotten far.”
Before I got my phone all the way out, Darrell shouted, “No!” Cathy looked at him as though he had two heads. “What do you mean ‘no’? I want my car!”
In a calmer, more sedate voice, Darrell explained, ‘We don’t need any cops. The car’s insured, right?” The last statement, or question, was directed at me.
“Yes, of course it’s insured, but Cathy will have to fill out a police report to collect on the insurance. I’ll tell you what. This is all my fault for not taking the keys with me. I’ll contend with the police. You two go back to your room.” Cathy started to say something, but Darrell grabbed her by the arm and dragged her away.
When they were out of sight, I dialed 911 and, as soon as the operator came on the line, I said, “I want to report a murder.” Then I gave Mrs. McNally’s address and apartment number to the woman on the other end of the line. She wanted me to hold on, but I gave her my location and phone number, telling her that I was with the killer and as soon as they confirmed the murder, I would hand him over to the proper authorities.
Within minutes, two police cars showed up at the motel and I filled them in. Just as I finished, a call came over the radio telling the officers that the body of Mrs. McNally had been found.
Cathy and Darrell were taken into custody, handcuffed, and put in the back of separate police vehicles. I was told to follow the officers to the station, which I did.
It was getting onto about midnight by the time I was allowed to leave. By then Darrell had confessed, saying it was Cathy’s idea. He said Cathy wanted her freedom and the old lady (Mrs. McNally) was making her life miserable. Cathy said she knew nothing about anything. I’m sure the police will sort everything out. Right then I was too tired to worry about it. I had caught my client’s murderer and that was all I cared about.
In all the excitement, I had forgotten about Carl. I went to see him the first thing the next morning, hoping he wouldn’t be too angry with me for standing him up the day before. I was prepared for a good tongue-lashing at the least, but I was not prepared for the reception I received. He slapped me on the back and told me I was one hell of a detective.
“Thank you, but you’re not angry with me for not coming back yesterday?”
“What are you taking about? You put our little agency on the map with your great bit of detecting yesterday.”
“How do you know about that?”
“You were all over the TV. And look at this,” he said as he handed me a newspaper. It was page one of the local section. It had the interview I had given that reported last night.
I guess I should have mentioned it before, but after the police told me I could go home, I was waylaid by the news media. I gave four, no, it was five, television interviews (one to a Spanish language station where my interview almost certainly came accompanied with subtitles). And I gave an interview to the reporter for the aforementioned newspaper. The same one in which I couldn’t afford to place an ad.
To tell the truth, I’d forgotten all about that stuff. I was dead on my feet and I agreed to speak with them because I couldn’t get to my car with them crowding around me. It was easier to give them a few minutes than to fight my way through.
Okay, I’ve prattled on long enough. When Carl and I got to the office, there were three people waiting. Each one of them wanted to hire our firm for various and sundry things. And I’m happy to report that no one wanted us to do a background check.
Carl grumbled a little about the office, but when I showed him the adjoining apartment and told him it was for him, he smiled and said, “Okay, kid, I was going to tell you we needed a computer, a fax machine, a land line, and hopefully a good-looking secretary. But we’ll play it your way for now. Maybe you can teach me a few things. You got any of those detective books I can borrow?”
And that is how I became a detective.
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