By: Antwan Crump
Three knocks on the glass panel of my door. A woman’s silhouette. A long pause. I fill my tumbler to its rim and drink half.
It’s like a breath of fresh air every time. That tan envelope with a flat golden matte spins onto my desk and I’m invigorated, enticed, aroused–slightly put off by the stone cold brown whiskey that lingers on the outsides of my top lip, along the roof of my mouth, and on to the knot in my throat.
The spikey tingle of intoxication proves to provide a fair pairing with my steady heart-rate. It doesn’t shift, but I do. Every time, I do. It’s why I’m the best that this godforsaken town has to offer–aside from petty offenses, infidelity, and the occasional missing broad. We do it well. We do it together. Chaos in tandem.
I open the envelope with my thumb and trigger finger as a voice blows toward me with the innocence of a summer breeze. “I’ve got the money,” she says with a wisp, almost as if it’d been on a dare. God damn broads. It’s always a woman that gets me.
In my racket, you tend to have the option to pick and choose between clients. That is when business is good. But, this is Mettle City. Business is always pre-Depression levels of booming.
At this point, I’ve turned away more sad faces and blubbering mouths than I could count on my hands and toes, your hands and toes, and whatever body parts are lying around your local infirmary. Choice, is the name of the game. The balancing factor. The red line between me and your standard coffee-breathed beat cop.
That is unless it’s a dainty young debutante with a breathy voice and curves you’d be happy to follow off a cliff. There’s no choice there. “Whatever amount it is that you need, detective. I’ll pay it.” She steps out of the shadows and into the single line of moonlight that I can’t get my shades to block.
I don’t look. I nod just to let her know that her voice still works. No need to let my genitals get in on the game just yet. By my guess, she’s eye candy and my pupils have got a bad case of sweet-tooth. The whole thing is wrong. I like wrong.
“I’d do anything to find him, detective,” she says. I take in her perfume, subtly. It’s one of those rosy fragrances that the immigrants bring in. Smells like shit, but the rich folks think it’s high class. This skirt’s got the dough. Now, let’s see what the hell she’s so desperate to spend it on.
I pry my two fingers into the envelope and pull out a stack of pictures. An older man and a young woman. Is it her? Is this a joke? I’ve got to look now, if only as a professional courtesy.
I tilt my head up and start the clock in my mind. Four seconds and she’s got me. Two and I seem incompetent. I settle at three. Three is a good number. Just enough holes for Christ on the cross. Just enough days for his comeback. Just enough time to get in and get out before she can work her spell on me.
One… Brunette hair.
Two… Hazel eyes.
Three… Supple lips.
Just like I thought. She’s god damn gorgeous. Shit.
I spark a cigarette to drag some ugly back into the room. I smoke the hard stuff. It should keep her out of my head long enough to reclaim my thoughts. I offer her one–no words, pack in hand. I feel the pack get lighter. I give her fire.
“Cheating husband?” I ask.
She doesn’t answer. She slides her heels around the rim of the seat that I didn’t offer her and glides into it like it was a favor to me. I smell her perfume stronger now. Potent. Spring-like. I look again. God damn broads.
“You deaf or something? I asked you a question.” I kill my drink and pour another. She doesn’t need to know that I’m human.
She holds the cigarette between two fingers and smokes it with her palm facing the wall. She won’t look me in the eye. Ashamed to be seen smoking, no doubt. Catholic girl. Good to know.
I stare as she breathes in that luscious smoke. It dances past her lips in tight swirls like some sort of oral calligraphy. Temptress. I acknowledge it and redact just as quickly.
Stay focused, Luke. You know this game. “I asked you a question, Miss…”
“Mrs.” She corrects me like it matters. “Etta… Etta Green.”
I ignore her attitude and hit my cigarette. I speak the smoke from my lips. “Well, Mrs. Green, what have we got here?” I slam my hand on the pile of photos and look at her like she’s just booted my car. ” You come in here, you give me a bunch of memories, and ask for help…”
She takes a pull from her cigarette and places it in the ashtray. Good girl. “I’ve never done this before.”
“They often haven’t. Where’s my answer?” I snarl like a rabid dog.
“Ten-thousand dollars and a case of Irish whiskey. You like whiskey. Don’t you, detective?”
“That’s an awful lot for a consultation.”
“It’s for your silence. In addition to your help.” She blinks half a dozen times. She’s nervous. I let her be. “You come highly recommended, detective. Though, I hear not cheap.”
I smirk. Every ego loves a good rubdown. “What else have you heard?”
She licks her lips and makes sure that I can see her tongue trace across them. She has me. She knows that she does. “You’re not much of a talker.” She crosses her legs–one over the other. A waft of roses blow my way when she does. Her currency checks out.
But, she doesn’t need to know that. “My answer or there’s the door.” I give Etta my best “serious-face”. She doesn’t buy it.
“I’ll need your word that this matter stays private.” She looks at my glass. “Drunken lips tell sober secrets.”
“Your’s are safe with me.” I’m curious. I fill my glass and lean back in my chair. “Enlighten me.”
Etta smiles and slides a note across my desk. I look at it. Never touch without asking. “A love letter? How thoughtful.” I sip my whiskey…loud.
She’s unamused. “…A ransom note.”
“Could be both.”
“… Detective, if you don’t…”
I unfold the letter. The penmanship is crap:
–To Whom it May Concern,
We have Mr. Roland Green and his mistress.
Should you desire either of their safe return
you will bring one million dollars to Sheryl Pier
Thursday, no later than midnight. Comply
or you will have them returned in pieces.
I sit upright, “Well, at least we know who did it.”
“Detective!” She shouts. She’s startled. Good. Now we’ve got an understanding.
“Taken the day that he went missing…I was,” Etta freezes. Ice in her veins. I like this one.
“Looking for a speedy divorce, I wager?”
Etta shudders, “It’s no concern of yours. Besides, isn’t this more pressing, detective?”
“It is.” I kill my whiskey. “Sounds like a job for the boys in blue.”
“For obvious reasons…I can’t do that.”
“Mind sharing with the class?”
“They–” She pauses and starts up the obligatory round of crocodile tears.
I crumble. “Don’t…Don’t do that. I’ll take the case.” Fucking broads.
“Thank you,” She throws herself forward like I’m her god. I guess, for the time being, I am. “Thank you so much. You don’t understand how…”
I raise a finger to let her know that I’m not done. “I’ll expect payment upfront.”
“Of course.” She digs in her purse and hands me a blank check. “Whatever amount you see fit.” I take it and slip it into my shirt-pocket for later. Much later.
I reach for another cigarette. “Tell me everything that you know.”
She spills the beans.
I pick up the juice.
Classic story. A rich asshole with more sexual urges than hairs on his head. A young wife with a nonexistent set of morals and a fetish for luxury. A second tier crook who found a weak spot and got lucky. Simple enough. Good money.
I escort her out of the room amidst a slew of her “thanks” and desperate pleas for my promise. I say it to shut her up. “Everything will be okay,” as I shut the door and sit back down. I don’t know. I never know. I will though. Sooner than I’d like. It’s nearly ten. Heck of a Thursday.
I knab my bottle of whiskey and drink from it like a baby on its mother’s teet. I watch the clock tick away. I wonder whose body they’ll start with. I wonder what body part. I don’t know. I never know. Either way, I’ll be there to find out.
“Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?” I mutter and start my drift into a whiskey-fueled nap. I’ll wake around eleven. I always do.
So, it begins…
Luke Benson will return in…
Episode #2: Thumbs