Threats don’t bother me. In fact I find ‘em kinda funny. Experience tells me that most of the time, when people threaten you, it’s all bluff, and nothing ever happens. It’s the people who don’t threaten you that you need to worry about.
For a while I had a list of some of the best ones I’d received, on the office noticeboard.
“One morning you’re going to wake up... dead!”
“Back off Able, or you’ll sleep with the squirrels.” Squirrels?
“Don’t mess with me. I know people.”
This last one didn’t seem so strange on the face of it. It was old-school. A classic.
But it was from the ten-year old shoe shine kid at the station when I forgot to tip him, which took some of the menace out of it.
This latest threat wouldn’t even make the top twenty.
I put the phone back to my ear, although the way she was yelling, I could have put the receiver down and put my head out the window. I still would have heard her just fine.
“Well I’m sorry you feel like that, Mrs Lipowicz, but as I explained before you hired me, I charge for the case, not for getting the result you want. So I’m afraid my bill still stands.”
“...you’re not the first person to suggest I take that course of action ma’am. But I have it on good authority that it’s medically unwise, and it would also then require me to print a second copy of your bill.”
“...I assure you that, despite you believing your husband was committing infidelity, there was no evidence of infidelibleness...”
“...infidelibleness… it’s an industry term.”
“...as I explained, your husband has joined a chess club…”
“...I don’t know ma’am. Maybe he wanted some peace and quiet?”
I held the receiver away from my ear for a few seconds…
“Mrs Lipowicz. Might I hazard a guess that you hired me because you’re looking for a divorce?”
“...just call it a hunch…”
“...oh I don’t know… ...maybe something to do with your gentleman caller, Mr Szwejkowski? From these photos that I’m looking at you make quite a nice couple…”
“Mrs Lipowicz. Blackmail is such an ugly word….”
“A cheque will be fine. Thank you and good day.”
I hung up.
Pushing the chair back, I straightened up and listened to my spine crackle and pop. I stood up and stretched, and as I did, a pair of eyes opened on the other side of the room.
“Oh you’re finally awake then? Want something to eat?”
I walked over to the cupboard and pulled out a can of tuna. As I did, a small cat headbutted my leg. Lady Ella was a lost and found. She kept getting lost and I kept finding her on my doorstep. Eventually I gave up taking her back to her owners and she’s been with me ever since.
I put down the fish and found her some milk from the refrigerator. She meowed some thanks and started eating. I scratched her ears and figured I might get something to eat too.
“See you later, Ella.” I said, as I grabbed my coat.
“You too - take it easy out there.” she replied.
She didn’t actually say it - she’s a cat. But as an experienced detective, I could read it in her body language. It’s a skill that takes years to develop.
To the untrained observer it looked like she just ignored me and carried on eating.
o o o o o
“Hi, Nance.” I said, as I slipped into an empty booth at the Cup ‘O’ Joe on Ninth Street.
“Hey, Chuck. Coffee?”
I looked around. The place was quiet. It was around eleven, breakfast was over and the lunchtime rush hadn’t started yet. The same two women who seemed to be in the far booth very time I came in were in their usual seats. I wondered if they ever left.
Lucy was wiping down the counter and I could hear Lee-Ho Fook out in the kitchen singing. And apparently howling every now and again. Oh well. The guy knows how to cook, that’s all I care about.
Nancy brought my coffee over.
“You’re looking a bit rough, Chuck.” she said. “Late night?”
“Rent-a-job.” I said. “Stakeout. Didn’t get in until five a.m. and ended up crashing at the office.”
Nancy made sympathetic noises.
“Any chance of some bacon and eggs?”
“Sure thing, hun.” She turned and shouted through the hatch.
“Lee! Bacon and eggs, please.”
Nancy and I go way back. In another life, maybe she and I woulda hooked up, but as it was we’re just good friends who have the odd drunken kiss at Christmas. She’s a good sort. Dependable as they come, a goldmine if you need some gossip, and doesn’t mind taking care of Ella if I’m outta town. She brought my breakfast over when Lee pushed it through the hatch, and sat down opposite me while I ate.
“So tell me about this stakeout. Anything exciting?”
Like most rent-a-job’s, there wasn’t much to tell. But wait a sec - maybe you don’t know what a rent-a-job is. Lemme explain.
What with cuts to the Police Budget (don’t get Captain Russo started on ‘the suits at City Hall’), the boys in blue get stretched thinner and thinner every year. So oftentimes, they’ll farm out some low-level work to ‘Approved Contractors’. By virtue of the fact that I was the Data Wrangler at the 18th Precinct for a good number of years before I set out on my own as a Private Eye, and I broadly stay on the right side of the law, I’d got myself an AC licence. It was pretty dull work most of the time, Don’t believe what you see on the TV - being a cop ain’t all that exciting. But it tended to be regular, and certainly in the early days when I was starting out, it kept the wolf from the door.
These days I don’t do so much - this was the first job I’d taken in months, but it’s wise to keep your hand in, and your face familiar - you never know when you might need a favour.
Ten minutes later I pushed the plate away and put some bills on the table.
“Thanks Nance - see ya later.”
She looked up from the table she was clearing and waved as I left.
o o o o o
Twenty minutes later I reached the doors of the 18th Precinct. It’s at the top of a hill, and I swear it gets steeper every time I climb it. I pushed open the polished wooden door and stepped inside.
There’s something about a Police station. Any time of day or night there’s always something going on. Today was no exception. As I made my way into the lobby, two hookers were screaming at each other while a couple of officers tried to keep them apart. Behind them a guy with a large placard that had ‘Down with this sort of thing!’ scrawled on it was stomping up and down and yelling the same thing, presumably for the benefit of those who couldn’t read his sign. Despite all the noise, a guy wearing a lion outfit, using the head as a pillow, was asleep on one of the benches.
“Quiet day then, Sarge.” I said.
“Well, hello stranger.” said the rotund and ruddy Sergeant behind the desk. “Haven’t seen you in ages, Chuck. How the devil are you?”
“I’m good, Pat, thanks. You?”
Sgt Pat O’Halloran beamed at me and replied in a rich Irish accent that had a tendency to waver, depending on how much he’d had to drink.
“I’m just fine and dandy, Chuck. It’s my youngest’s twenty fifth birthday today, and we’re going out for a few drinks to celebrate tonight!”
“Your youngest? You’ll have to remind me, Pat, is that Emily or Cora?”
“Cora. She’s the spit of her mother, y’know - here let me show you a picture.”
He pulled a small photo out his wallet and showed me a picture of a pretty, dark haired woman who had the same twinkle in her eye as her father.
“She’s lovely, Pat.” I said.
He grabbed the photo back and looked at me with mock-seriousness.
“She is - don’t you go getting any ideas.”
He roared at his own joke, and I chuckled as I signed out a pass.
“Thanks, Pat!” I said, and he buzzed me through the barrier.
I made my way deeper into the station. While the outside might look 1940’s, it’s a lot more modern inside. I was headed for the admin office to get my chit signed off for last night when I heard a stern voice behind me.
“Able? That you?”
I slowed up and turned round.
“Captain Russo! Good morning sir.”
“What are you doing here? Haven’t seen you around in months. Thought you’d moved away. Or they’d locked you up. Or someone had finally shot you or something.”
“Fraid not, Cap.”
“Well, I live in hope. Meanwhile I suppose you’re here to bleed my budget drier still?”
“Just a stakeout, I don’t think it’ll bring the city to it’s knees just yet.”
“Tell me something, Able.” he said. “Why is it, that as a Police Officer, sworn to serve and protect. Dedicated to the fighting of crime. Devoted to keeping the people of this city safe from hoodlums, villains and wise cracking Private eyes… Why is it that I now have to go to a three hour meeting with an accountant and a time and motion studies analyst? Tell me!”
I walked away chuckling. I could still hear him complaining as I reached the admin office door.
A few minutes later my paperwork was filed and I headed back through the station. I stopped and shot the breeze with a couple of guys I hadn’t seen for a while, and failed dismally to flirt with a pretty young policewoman. When her hand started reaching for her gun I gave it up as a bad job and moved on.
A minute later and I was back at Pat’s desk. He was just about to buzz me out when the front doors burst open.
A uniform hauled a grubby looking hispanic guy to the desk. However, my eye was caught by the flamboyant figure that strode in behind them. Middling height, he had long, sandy hair, a beard and ‘tache and a rhinestone shirt. He looked like a bad Country and Western singer. I couldn’t see from where I was standing, but I lay odds that he was wearing cowboy boots. All he needed was a stetson.
“Sarge…” he drawled. “Enrico Martinez. Dealing in prohibited substances, illegally carrying a concealed weapon and resisting arrest.”
I slid my pass back over to Pat. He gave me a nod as he buzzed me out, then turned back to deal with Mr Martinez. With one last look at the cowboy cop, I pushed out through the door and back to the street.
o o o o o
On the way back I stopped off at the Korean bodega a couple of blocks down from the office to pick up some more tuna and a few bottles of beer. When I got back I stashed the tuna, put the beer in the refrigerator to cool and figured I’d just check the mail before I went back to my apartment for a couple of hours sleep.
I woke the machine up and ploughed through offers of free money, tablets to cure just about anything and note from my Mother reminding me not to forget my brother’s birthday next month.
I was just about done when the machine let out a soft ‘ping’, and a small window opened up in the corner of the screen.
About a year ago, English had fixed me up a with a new machine. He’d also hooked up a couple of cameras, so that my office security was upgraded from ‘useless’ to ‘as good as useless, but at least you’ll be able to see who it was that stole all your stuff.’
The window showed me the top of the staircase and the corridor leading to my office. A woman was outside my door, and right on cue, there was a knock.
I cleared the screen.
The door opened.
“Mr Able.” It was a statement, not a question.
The woman walked in and closed the door.
“I said I’d see you again…”