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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Unusual Case

Short Story  - Detective [Noir]

            I left San Francisco after getting busted — a long story from another time, another place, another world, and better off forgotten. I drove north far as I could and landed here in Kissmiass, Alaska.  Colder than a bitch’s tit and urine freezes ‘fore it hits the snow. Inhabitants  get cabin fever . . . worse.   I lubricate my sanity with gin, which seems to work but is expensive. My small office is one flight above the Falling Moose Saloon. The rent’s not much. It’s just four walls and a cracked window that looks out onto an air shaft. There's a dying fichus plant . . . a desk, two wooden chairs. I’m slightly drunk but see her shadow silhouetted on the frosted glass that states my name and occupation on the office door:
Ace Brannon
Private Eye.

            She doesn’t bother knocking, just walks in. A tall blond, maybe thirty something with a rack that’s big enough to make a man think twice, and two green eyes the size of bottle caps. A third eye glows a dull red from the center of her forehead . . . bloodshot maybe.
            I try not to stare. It isn't easy.
            "My name's Margo. Margo Mank,” she says. “I’ve got a problem.”
            “Yeah? Tell me about it.” I suppress a grin.  
            “I’m looking for a guy,” she says.
            “A lot of women have that problem.”
            “Not like mine,” she says. “My man was murdered last September. We’d been married for a year. His name’s Shaw Mank . . . or was. The cops don’t seem to care about the case.”
            “What was his bag?” I ask her.
            “Scientist,” she tells me.
            “No, the research kind. Shaw had been working on the sexual reproduction of Norwegian seaweed at a private lab in Munich, Germany. He flew back home to meet me in the States. Shaw told me he’d discovered something that was sure to make us rich, but never got a chance to tell me what it was. He left our place to buy a bottle of Champagne, to celebrate, you know? That was the last I saw until some three weeks later when a wino found his body underneath a pile of smashed-down cardboard boxes in an alley. It was pressed flat, like a rose between the pages of a bible.”
            “You know who the killer was?” I ask.
            “I’ve got a picture of him.”
            Margo pulls a black & white out of a Gucci alligator purse that’s big enough to hide a rabbit in. She lays it on my desk. The dude looks something like a cross between an octopus and wheelchair.
            “He should be an easy guy to find,” I say.
            “He’s faster than he looks.”
            “He got a name?”
            “They call him, Twitchy.”
            “Used to date a broad called, Itchy,” I inform her.
            Margo’s red eye blinks. “Twitchy’s a hit man from Chicago, but I followed him up here, as far as Nome, then lost the trail. There was a snowstorm - big wind from Winnetka - and my dogs ran out of gas.”
            “I see.”
            Her third eye wanders aimlessly around the room, as if in search of something. I wonder what else Margo's got inside that purse.
            “I don’t come cheap,” I tell her. “Fifty bucks a day and all expenses such as burgers, helicopters, rental cars and cigarettes.” I light one, giving her some time to think about it.
            “How much would that be in euros?” Margo asks.
            “Not sure . . . forty maybe. Money changes. Have to read the Wall Street Journal to keep up. You read much?”
            “Hard to focus . . . can’t see very well,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of Euros.” Margo digs into the purse and comes out with a stack of bills. She deals three crisp new fifties off the top and lays them on my desk. “Is this enough to start?”
            “I don’t like foreign money for three reasons. One: I can’t tell if it’s real or bogus. Two: Hard to exchange, even if real. And three: Same as the first.”
            “I’ve heard that song before,” she says.
            “You must be older than you look.”
            “I’ve had some work done.” Margo’s eyebrows raise . . . all three of them. “But these are real.”
            I can’t help glancing at her tits.
            She tells me, “You can take ‘em to the bank . . . the Euros,” she says with a knowing smirk.         
            “I will.” I rake in the notes across my desk and hold one to the lamp without a clue what I should look for.
            “Those are good,” she says. “Shaw brought them back from Germany.”
            “I see.”
            “You’re lucky,” Margo tells me. “So, are we in business?”
            “Sure.” I fold the bills and shove ‘em into my back pocket. “Where would you suggest I start to look for Twitchy?”
            “Here,” she says. “In Kissmiass.”
            “What makes you think he’s here?”
            “I hired a tracker . . . Indian,” she says. “Shot With Two Arrows, was his name."
            “Where is he now?”
            “He’s dead,” she tells me.
            “Let me guess, shot with two arrows?”
            “Yeah. You must have read about it.”
            “I’m intuitive,” I tell her.
             “Twitchy’s got an evil sense of humor. At the morgue they found a sprig of
seaweed flattened into Shaw’s shirt pocket. He’s a sneaky bastard.”
            “Um . . . Well, like I said, he shouldn’t be too hard to find. I’ll ask around. You got a room here?”
            “At the Eagle’s Nest. Room eighty-six.”
            “I know the place,” I tell her. “I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
            She gets up to leave, and bumps into the fichus plant on her way out, then turns to face me from the open doorway, “Watch your back,” she says.
*     *     *
            I step outside. A fluttering of snowflakes kiss my face. I've got a feeling Twitchy’s close. I sense it in my bones. Like I told Margo, I’m intuitive. Best place to start's a sleazy bar in walking distance from my office, Dirty Dick’s.
            It’s just a little after six and dark as death outside. It’s almost warm as I step into Dick’s. A wood stove burning coal glows dull red from the far end of a dingy room. Someone has strung a strand of Christmas lights behind the bar. A coal oil lantern hanging from a rafter casts a dingy yellow glow around a wino slumped across a table near the stove.
            Annie Big Beaver’s tending bar . . . native American. We’ve got a couple dozen displaced Indians in Kissmiass.
            “Hi, Ace . . . how goes it?” Annie pours a shot of gin into a smudgy glass as I climb on a stool.
            “Where’s Dick?” I ask her.
            “On the nod again,” she says.
            “I’m looking for a man,” I tell her.
            “Yeah? Me too,” she says. Big Beaver’s five foot-six . . . must weigh a hundred-eighty pounds stark naked. I don’t like to think about her that way. Annie's close cropped hair and eyes are black as two feet up a chimney.
            “This one’s not your type,” I tell her. “Rides a wheelchair like he’s part of it.” I show the photo Margo left me.
            “He was here,” she says. “He had a couple drinks with Charlie Hardway.” Annie nods toward the wino at the table by the stove, her only customer.
            I take my glass and lay one of the fifties on the bar. “Use this to clear my tab.”
She picks the Euro up inspecting it suspiciously. “You play monopoly?”
            “It’s good . . . I promise. You can take it to the bank,” I tell her sliding off the stool, then walk across the room and take a chair at Hardway’s table where he’s staring down into a teacup full of whisky like expecting he might find some kind of message in it. Charlie’s Irish, used to prospect somewhere not too far from here. They say he found a vein of gold, nobody knows how big it was, or where it is. He doesn’t talk much. Pays his bills with dime-sized nuggets, Annie told me.
            He looks up at me with rheumy, glintless eyes.
            “You know this guy?” I shove the photograph in front of him.
            “Bought me a drink . . . I think. Name’s Bitchy. Got four arms, two of  ‘em silver, or might be aluminum,” he says. “Looks like some kinda Hindu idol. Asked me if I knew some broad named Maggot. Said I never heard of her. He didn’t stay long.”
            “That’s all he said?”
            “I think so, yeah. No, wait . . . he told me somethin’.”
            Hardway’s gone back to looking in his cup again. “I don’t remember
 . . . might have been a joke. A funny lookin’ guy . . . four arms . . . odd sense of humor.”
            I get up, kill my shot, and leave the empty glass on Annie’s bar on my way out. Big Beaver's squinting at the Euro as I leave.
            It isn’t snowing anymore. A sickle moon’s illuminates a pair narrow wheel tracks, furrows in the frost capped snow that lead away from Dirty Dick’s. I follow them, but see nobody on the street except a couple guys unloading produce for the local grocery store. I figure I should ask them—
            ZOOSH! An object whizzes past me, something white and bigger than a bullet glances off my left side, then explodes inside a truck of water melons.  Red pulp splatters everywhere. The lights go out. I’m hit. I shoulda watched my back. My leg  hurts . . . shrapnel? Maybe frozen watermelon rind.
*     *     *
            I can hear voices.
            “. . . and the Euro’s dropped again, gold up fifteen and oil hit eighty-five a barrel. Wall Street insiders say—”
            It’s television.
            I try hard to open up my eyes . . . not easy. Things are blurry . . . bright and whiter than a clansman's sheet.  A woman’s looking down at me. She’s dressed in white. I might be dead. She starts to come in focus. I discern a red dot on her forehead and a nametag – Dr. Maya Sanjay.
            “You’re all right,” she says. “You’re probably going to be okay.”
            An optimist.
            “Do you know where you are?” she asks me.
            “Eagle's Rest Hospital,” she interrupts. “You're having a concussion and a broken leg, but you were lucky.
            “Really? How? I don’t remember.”
            “Medics told us you were maybe walking to your car. A Twiggy’s Ice-Cream truck came
up behind, and you got . . . how do you say it? . . . clipped. It’s wise to look behind you when you’re in the street. We’re going to put you in a wheelchair for a week, and after that you’ll be on crutches for some time. I recommend aluminum, they’re lighter, easier to use . . . just like another pair of arms.”
            “I’m freezing. Can I get another blanket?”
            Maya pulls a cell phone from her lab coat. “Nurse, could we be having one more blanket here? Room eighty-six.”

Published: Sein und Werden (UK) 2011

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