BY NORM ROSOLEN
This is the first of a two-part story. Come back tomorrow to read the conclusion. Copyright is held by the author.
THE MUFFLED bellow of a foghorn leads me down to the dockyards through fog as thick as shaving cream. Close to the water front, I see lights from cop cars, and shadowy figures lurch around under a dismal street lamp.
Big Detective Lieutenant Jack McNally stomps towards me. His mashed-up face sneers from under the brim of his sharp fedora.
“Well, if it ain’t Stan Shade, private dick, and general asshole,” he says. He pushes his head at me like he wants a fight. “Came down to see your old partner, Niles, before we cart him off to the morgue, did ya?”
“Nice to see you too, McNally.” I really want to tell him to fuck-off, but that’s just the excuse he needs to haul me in. I don’t desire a night in the hoosegow right now.
“Takes time ta get rid of a murder gun, don’t it?” he says.
“Poor old Niles,” I say. “Twenty-two years old. How’d it happen?”
“I think you know, but I’ll tell ya anyway. Looks like a bullet in the middle of his chest. Probably the first one. Then a second one in the middle of his forehead. Insurance. What do you carry, Shade?”
“I don’t. I’m a vegetarian.”
“I don’t like vegetarians. How long you two been partnering?”
“I think that’s illegal.”
“His mom said it was okay?”
“I’d like to talk to her, where’s she at?”
“Kingston Pen. He didn’t have good role models.”
Nelly Bowman, Niles’s mom, a hooker and a good one at that. One time, I asked her about the centipede tattoo on her ass, and she said it represented all the men she ever knew. Enough said.
“Well, you weren’t one, were you, Shade?”
“A good role model.”
“Better than his deadbeat college professor of a dad and hooker mom.”
“Say, I heard you had somethin’ goin’ on with his wife? That don’t surprise me.”
“Answer the question.”
“Never,” I say.
“What’s her name again?”
Yeah, I have something going with Edna, poor Niles’s thirty-eight year old cougar wife. As hot as a fireplace poker, and ten times more dangerous. The cops always need a fall guy, but not on me. Maybe Edna’ll take the rap. Her and Niles was havin’ troubles.
“What’ya know about geese, Shade?”
“They go ‘honk, honk.’ What do you know?” I say.
“Funny. I’d love to run you in. It’s Burmese geese. They was his dying words, according to the guy what found him.”
“It was a job. Niles took it on three months ago, but he didn’t talk much about it. Said it was hush, hush. I had a look at some of his notes. He was kinda careless. Niles was helping a German guy import rubber geese from Burma. For some reason, the German guy thought somebody was after ‘em. Kinda dumb I figured, but it paid good, two grand, so, it was okay by me.”
“What were these duckies for?”
“Toys. Kids could float ‘em on the water. Chuck rocks at ‘em.”
“He was panicky this morning. But he wouldn’t tell me anything or let me help. Kept saying the duckies was missing.”
“Who else might know about this?”
“Check with Zelda.”
“Yeah. That’s a good idea. I gotta look at those notes you said he made.” A small smile creeps across the pervert’s face.
McNally first met Zelda Smit when he came to the office and said he was gonna take away my dick license. His eyes bugged out when he saw her, and he began drooling. It was so goddamn obvious. He forgot about the license and came back a few more times.
So, I told Zelda that McNally was happily married. Definitely a lie. His wife booted him out at least two years ago, not the least because I had a relationship with her, you might call it, about a year before she and scar-face split. He found out; a man don’t like to be cuckolded.
Zelda said McNally was good looking. I said she needed her eyes checked. She said he was rugged looking like a football player. I said he was rugged like Frankenstein. She said she liked Frankenstein’s looks. Dames, I’ll never figure ‘em out.
Zelda started with us three months ago, just about when Niles started working for the German guy. Niles said we needed the help, what with the extra detecting and the big money the German promised. She was the first through the door, and he took her right away.
She wanted to be an ‘executive assistant’, not a secretary, so that’s her official title. She can’t type or spell worth beans, but she’s good with the coffee and flirts with the male clients, and a few female ones, too. But the real reason she stays is that I fell in love the first second I saw her, and I still am, even though she won’t let me in her pants.
I like good lookin’ dames. Normal enough. And that’s what I figured at first. I had Edna on the side and a coupla others. But then, I started thinkin’ about her all the time. She’s a ditzy blond, but there’s something else I can’t figure out, that’s pulling me hard, like a fish to a lure. I want to be with her, even in something stupid like being married. And I’m fourteen years older, and the last thing I ever wanted was to be roped down. Go figure.
McNally wakes me. “Okay, Shade. Be at the station by eight.”
“When do you get in?”
“Ten. I wanna make you sweat.”
Eleven it is. I straighten my tie, cinch the belt around my trench coat, push in the dimples at the top of my dark brown fedora, and pull the brim low over my eyes. Then, I take one long, last squint at the deceased Niles Bowman and nudge the crumbled corpse with the toe of my well polished, black leather, wing tips. Kind of gross, really, but I always wanted to kick the stuffing out of the jerk.
“So long, sucker,” I say and head back to the office. Now, I gotta deal with Edna Bowman. Christ, that’s a complication.
The frosted glass on the door to my office has ‘Bowman and Shade’ printed on it in two inch high purple letters and below that, ‘Detective Agency.’ I never liked the purple. Bowman did that. I was never quite sure about him. But I like the way he made the two lines come out the same length.
I’ll find some guy to fix it. Yellow pages. I’d ask Zelda, but I’m not sure she could handle it. I put a big ‘X’ through ‘Bowman’ with a magic marker.
The door’s unlocked, so I open it slowly, and stick my head in, and a gorilla grabs my tie and yanks. The unruly fellow spins me around and pats me down. As I mentioned, I don’t carry heat. Against my religion about not dying too young.
He pushes me down into one of our client chairs. It’s not comfortable. Looks nice though, kinda fancy. That was Niles again.
Edna sits on the other client chair next to me. She wears a little pillbox hat with a veil, a mink stole, and her skirt rides high up her thigh. She reaches across and takes my hand. It’s embarrassing.
“Darling,” she says. “These men are so mean.”
“It’s going to be fine,” I say. “You know about Niles, right?”
Edna sobs and dabs her eye with a little lace hankie. She fakes a sad, brave smile and says, “Oh Stan, the police called, and I couldn’t get you on the phone, so I came here, and these… people, oh Stan, they’re so mean, and asked me about some geese, and I just cried. I don’t know anything about any geese, and…”
“Relax, kid,” I say.
Maybe McNally’s on his way here to check out Niles’s notes. But Zelda’s not in til the morning, so maybe not. This is the one time I’d like to see the numbskull barrel in on top of me. In the meantime, I gotta figure out what’s goin’ down.
Besides the ten foot gorilla, there’s a small guy who stands with his back to the wall and points a semi-automatic German Luger right at Edna. That’s not helping her peace of mind.
The boss sits behind my desk, bony legs stretched across the top, and a smouldering cigarette, on the end of a long holder, sticking straight out of his skinny mouth. He’s about fifty, pencil moustache, bow tie, and bowler hat. He’s maybe English or French.
“Ciggies‘ll kill ya,” I say.
He says, “Bruno.”
And the gorilla smacks me.
“Oww!” I say.
“Vel, Mr Schmade,” the boss guy says. “Vue ‘av already metten my associate, Bruno, and zee vun mit zee gun is Vilmer. My name is Valter. Zey are gut boys, Herr Schmade, and zey do not like zee trouble. I trust, vue vil not try zer patience. Bruno.”
“Oww! I get the picture, Walter. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? Maybe I can help you.”
“Vee make it quick, Mr Schmade,” he says. “Tell me vut vee know, and vee leaf.” He throws an envelope on the desk. “Two hundred American dollars for vuer time. Und vuer silence.”
“What the fuck’s going on,” I say, diplomatically.
And he says, “Bruno, teach Herr Schmade to be more polite.”
“Vel, Mr Schmade, do vue have zee answer zat vee need? Bruno.”
“Oww! Okay, okay. The geese?” I’m guessing Walter’s pissed about the geese.
“Edna says vue know ver zey are, Mr Schmade. Bruno.”
“I’m so sorry, honey,” says Edna. “But they’re so mean.”
“Sure, baby. Walter, I don’t know why she’s here, but she don’t know nothin’. Really. Why dontcha just let her go?”
“Vue are attached to her, nein? And Frau Bowman to vue, nein? I zink she vil remain. Und vee mean business, as vue say. Bruno, strike Frau Bowman.”
Bruno walks over to Edna, and raises a hand. Edna bursts into tears and cowers. Bruno holds back. He’s a wimp.
“Hey, hey. Relax,” I say. “I’ll cooperate. No need to go hitting a lady.” Edna’s quivering and sobbing, and Walter waves his hand for Bruno to back off.
“Zo, vut is vuer shtory, Herr Schmade?”
“Uh, yeah, yeah. A guy lifted them. A fence named George.” I don’t know any George.
“Enough mit zee lying, Herr Schmade. Ver are zee gooses?”
“Geese,” I say. “Not gooses. I don’t know.”
This is an error on my part. Walter straightens, picks up the envelope with the $200, and puts it back in his breast pocket.
“Vilmer, vee haf no further need of zee services of Herr Schmade or Frau Bowman.”
Edna panics. “Stan, Stan. What does he mean?”
Sweat starts running down my forehead like some kid’s shooting a water pistol in my face. I try to come up with a stall.
“Walter, I can find your geese. What I mean is, I can’t exactly tell you where they are right now, but I know how to find them. I need to talk to my secretary, Zelda. She gets here between eight and nine, so we’ll all go home and meet here in the morning after nine, and we’ll have a nice chat. She makes great coffee. You like biscuits?”
Walter laughs, and his goons pick up on it, and fake some laughs too. They’re not fun guys.
“Vee vil be serious now, Herr Schmade. Nein? How ees it eggzactly do vue vish to locate zee gooses?”
“Niles gave me a map where they’re being kept. I converted it into a code that only I can figure out, and I burned the map. I asked Zelda to hide the code for me. It’s my insurance.”
It’s a stall. There’s no map or code. I don’t know if he’s going to believe me, but now, I’ve dragged Zelda into this shit-storm. Instead of just Edna and me dead, I added an innocent dumb blond to the list.
Walter turns to Vilmer. “Vhy do vue vant to shot everyvun, Vilmer? All zee time.” He turns back to Edna and me. “Vuer Herr Bowman should not haf reached fur zee gun. Zo, vhy do vue not go to zee police, Herr Schmade?”
“I thought that there was maybe an opportunity, an economic opportunity, in them duckies,” I say.
“Gooses, not duckies,” says Walter. “I do not belief vue, Schmade. But vee vil have a talk mit Zelda anyway. Bruno, Vilmer, take Frau Bowman and Herr Schmade to zee car. Vee vil make a visit mit Zelda Smit. Bruno.”
Smack. A really hard one this time.
“Owww!” I say.
“Und schmile, Herr Schmade.”
Come back tomorrow to read the conclusion of this story.