A Dame and a Drawback
She walked into the room like a cliché out of a Raymond Chandler novel. All marble legs and scarlet heels. I’d seen her type before, so I was mentally prepared from the get-go.
I offered her a drink but she declined. She wasn’t thirsting for the sweet succour of oblivion. I sat her down, sized her up. Blonde hair like streaks of morning sunlight, a red dress so sharp it’d take your eye out. I could strike ‘dead husband’ off the list of sobs stories she might be about to impart. This wasn’t a greedy grieving widow, and it sure as hell wasn’t a case of, ‘The cops say they want to help but really they won’t do a thing.’
Then she opened her mouth and told her tale. Canaries sang less sweetly than the number this dame was spinning. It was the kind of sob story to melt your heart right past liquid and on to vapour.
A younger brother, he was the key to it all. A dead daddy, too. They were estranged, she and dear old Dad, hence the lack of black in her ensemble. But little brother had been close to Father, real close, the favoured child. And dependent.
But that wasn’t her trouble. I was no social worker and she knew it. This dame wasn’t here to ask me how to keep him.
Because she hadn’t even done that herself.
He was missing, those lips alleged. Vanished off the face of the planet for all she could say. No longer guarded by a guardian, he’d gone astray.
I swear to you on my maker’s oath, those were her exact words. ‘Gone astray.’ Sheesh, what a life!
I told her I’d look into it. For the retainer she was offering, I’d look into the workings of a third world sewage plant. She was satisfied, and she left.
My first step should’ve been to assess the background I’d wrung out of her. Other matters took priority. Confronted by a slug of whiskey, all I could do was accept its silent challenge. Over and again I tasted its victory. The nectar was sweet and smoky, a single malt older than my grandmother.
Somehow it sharpened my mind, honed my senses. Took me to a place I couldn’t go without it.
This dame wasn’t on the up-and-up, I’d seen a thousand of her kind and every one of them stank. If she was giving me lyrics about a missing brother, ten dimes’ll buy you a dollar the subtext screamed murder.
Motive was painted all over her. Knock off the one competing heir – especially a dependent one – and her rich daddy’s fortune goes one way. It was understandable, in a sick, perverted way. The dame was resentful. Baby brother was Daddy’s favourite, but all of a sudden he was her burden.
Stone him, and two troubles fly away.
She was good, I had to give her that. She laid it on all silky like harp-song, but she played it like a screeching high note on a violin – the kind that slices you in half. This dame had to know how it was going to look. Baby brother’s body bounces back, and boom! Fifty to life in the slammer, with every finger pointed at the conniving bitch who never felt Daddy’s love.
But make him disappear, plead love and devotion, go running to a gumshoe who’ll promise to do everything he can to bring the boy back alive… Well, right there and then it looks like she gives a damn. The body turns up, as they inevitably do, and she cries crocodile tears all the way to the bank.
I ran the contacts I had at my disposal. Hollywood hustlers, whores and hijackers. To the last they gave me a flatline of information. They were telling me more this way than if they’d told me everything. No trace of a troubled youth going for a meander round the Hills struggling to figure himself out. Seven ways to Sunday that kind of behaviour drops you in the laps of the dead souls I’d been quizzing.
Bus lines, train lines, airlines, they all brought up a big fat zero. No one going by the kid’s name, not a person matching his description or his demeanour. The kid was from money, so I even tried taxicabs and limousines. If there was anyone heading out of this bowl of sin to Palookaville or Pittsburgh or even Pakistan, I knew about it. And this kid, he wasn’t on the list.
So maybe he was laying low? It was a hunch I had to play. My people, every one of them the kind I could trust, turned over every squat, every motel, every hotel, every gentlemen’s club (of the classy and the dirty persuasion), every gin store, every dive, every picture house, even the lion enclosure at the City Zoo.
This guy would’ve been pissing me off if I’d expected to find him.
Every avenue I’d ever known to try, I tried. Stage two was to put the squeeze smack down on the dame. I checked background, I checked character. I investigated her so thoroughly it would’ve made old J Edgar proud. I chased my deductions a thousand times, but every time she came up rosy. This dame was good.
She had me on a theory and not a lot else. It could’ve gone either way and she knew it. The game was playing out her way. All there was to do was wait for the sickly smelling corpse of a poor kid caught up by circumstance to air itself like so much dirty laundry.
I had an in with the captain at the 49th Precinct on Sunset. He’d hear me out, with or without a clue to substantiate me.
Only he came at me first. And he was flanked by a couple of goons I didn’t much take to.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when they told me they were bottom feeders. With a string of rich clients from here to Virginia if their squeaky clean suits were any judge of character.
They’d brought a gift for me, wrapped up all sweet in a pretty bow. It was a cease and desist order, and as soon as I knew that, my gut yelled at me to tell me who was paying them.
Where I was taking my enquiries was a place she didn’t want me visiting, it surprised me not. I silently cursed my guy at probate – he’d been loose of lip, I couldn’t explain this leak any other way.
I’m glad she was feeling the sting, but her knowledge of it had arrived at an inopportune time.
Right when my mind was scrambling for a new plan, the captain threw me a sucker punch. ‘We’ve found the brother.’ With these silk-suited sacks of slime in tow, there was only one way he could possibly have meant me to take that.
‘Is there a scratch on him?’ I replied more meekly than I’d intended. My words should have conveyed the illusion that I’d been up to speed all along but they were spat on from above by the croak in my throat.
El Capitano shook his head like he pitied me. He probably did.
The bitch had been on the up and up. I really had to lay off the sauce.