There was once a chance I didn’t take; and that just might just kill me.
“Yer spark plug is fucked, and yer bearings are worn to the nub, so you’re going to need new ones.”
“Yeah, so? How much will it cost me?”
“Aww, not much for the labour, but it’s going to take a while because I’m gonna to need to order these in.”
“What, you can’t just use some of the ones you have lying around?”
“Well, I could if ya didn’t insist on driving that old piece of crap antique, but it’s a custom job and it’ll cost ya for the parts, plus you’ll have to wait for a couple of weeks”.
“Shit. Look Wayne, I need to have that car by the end of the week. Any way you could speed things up?”
“For you? Sure I can, but that’s gonna cost extra see. I got expenses to cover”.
I grimaced and dug out a wad of bills, started flicking through them. He grabbed a whole bunch of them, most of them in fact.
“That oughta do it. I’ll call ya Joe”.
Fucker damned near cleaned me out. Still, I knew him, he was reliable; better safe than sorry.
Now I just had to find that dame, the one that had given me that wad of bills to follow her husband around town. Only it wasn’t her husband I should have been following see?
It was her.
I should have known she would be trouble from the first time I laid eyes on her. The way she walked into my small dark office, all slinky long legs, sultry look on her face and that perfume…she wanted to make an impression on me and she had, even through the fog and the headache I got as a souvenir from my old friend Jacky D from the night before.
Yeah, she walked in with the top buttons of her blouse undone, sat in front of my desk in her short skirt, crossed her legs and set her purse on her lap. Looked at me from out of her mouth like honey, “I want you to follow my husband. I think he’s having an affair. I’d like to acquire your services for a week.”
Well, she don’t waste any time. I took a cigarette out of a crumpled packet lying beside the empty bottle in front of me and stuck it in my mouth, flicked open my lighter. “That’ll be $100 per day, plus expenses”.
“Look, I only need you to follow him around…”
“Yeah well, I got bills to pay lady, take it or leave it.”
She got up to leave.
“All right lady, tell you what. $500 for the week, plus expenses. That’s my final offer. Now why don’t you tell me about why you think your husband is having an affair?”
She breaks out some sob story about him not coming home every night like he used to, he’d been staying out more than usual and he was making excuses. They had arguments. He’d storm out and she’d go to her mother’s.
I said I’d look into it, half up front, half after.
Boy, what a chump I was.
So I follow this guy around. His names Fred. He works at a bank, as a cash-teller. He works nine to five, Monday to Friday. He takes sandwiches to work, so he doesn’t go out for lunch. He buys a newspaper from the same stand every day after work, he goes to the park and sits there for an hour just reading it, then doing part of the crossword; he does some more of the crossword on the way home. He leaves the paper on the bus, and goes home. On Friday night, he goes to the Grasshopper bar and has a couple of beers instead of sitting in the park, but he does the crossword, and leaves the paper on the table he’s sat at (no particular table), and goes home.
So six days pass, and nothing’s happened, so I decide to have a look at the paper he’s left at the bar that Friday, see if there’s a message or something. Even if there isn’t a message, perhaps the crossword answers he gave and in which order will tell me something about him.
I get up from my bar stool and go to sit down at the table he’s left, and I have a look at the crossword; I’m in luck! Instead of the answers to the questions, there are words in there which don’t make much sense, even after I’ve copied them to my notebook and put them in some sort of order; ‘present Gina cake fog gibbous witch’.
Well, there was a bar called Gina’s down-town from here. Cake might be a birthday cake, which would explain the present, and might mean a trade of some sort. So Fred was going to meet outside Gina’s and trade something? He was a bank clerk, so maybe he was stealing money or something; maybe somebody was leaning on him, threatened his wife.
What was this guy involved in? Gibbous meant moon. Last night was a full moon (I knew because I had a flashback of me in the gutter, howling up at the sky). Witch? Maybe that meant 3am, but then it could have been midnight…
Fuck it, I’d have to wait outside Gina’s for at least four hours, between 11:30 pm and 4 am. Shit.
Long story short, I’m sat in my car on a street opposite Gina’s, munching on an apple and pretending to read a paper while I’m glancing all around me to spot Fred. It’s about midnight when he arrives (thank fuck for that), and he’s looking around nervously as he makes his way past Gina’s and then down an alleyway beside the bar.
I get out of my car and scurry across the street to the opposite corner of the alleyway from Gina’s, so I can listen in and maybe get a peek at whoever Fred’s meeting.
Then there’s a loud bang, I spring out from behind the corner with my revolver but the bastard who shot him is already out of range, running out of the alleyway and out of sight before I can get a bead on him.
I stoop over Fred’s body, which is face down, and turn him over. There’s a trickle of blood dribbling out from the corner of his mouth, and a patch of the same spreading over his shirt. He coughs and splutters feebly, then looks at me and says “the formula…get…the…”, then he dies.
Dammit. Well, the broad might not want to pay up, but I was going to collect my dues anyway, right after I found out who killed this poor schmuck. It could have been whoever was supposed to collect the formula who did it, or maybe he heard the gunshot and ran off.
I decide to go back to the Grasshopper and talk to the barman, maybe somebody had been asking questions about Fred before he’d gone over to Gina’s.
The Grasshopper’s quiet when I return, just life’s deadbeats and alcoholics remain, nursing their drinks like battered and weary souls; I feel right at home. I walk over to the bar and sit on the stool, light up a cigarette. The barman stops polishing the bar with his rag and saunters over.
“What’ll it be?” he asks.
“Whisky. Double, on the rocks.”
He pours me out a double, and I drink most of it in one swig.
“Bad night?” he enquires.
“You could say that pal, didn’t turn out right. Say, you see that tall drink o’water who was sittin’ at that table earlier, doing his crossword in the paper?”
The barman scratches his head, thinking. “Yeah, I saw him. What about him?”
“Anybody else ask about him today?”
“Naw…well now, yesterday there was this one feller, but I don’t remember too good…”
“Yeah?” I said, handing him some folding money.
“Now I remember” said the barman, standing up straight and brightening up, “he was from this company, Denta-sum-tin, Denta…Denta-tek. Yeah, that was it, Denta-tek.”
“Don’t suppose he left a card?” I asked, pulling out a wad of notes and fingering them.
“Sure…” he replied, staring at the notes “I got it right here”.
He pulled a business card out of his back pocket, I took it from him and glanced at it, then put it in my pocket along with the roll of bills.
“Thanks bud, you’ve been a great help. Here’s for the whisky, you can keep the change” I say, as I leave some change on the bar.
“Yeah, sure. Any time” he says sarcastically, his face going sour as I turn away and walk out of the door.
So, Denta-tek. I’d heard of them, there was an article in the paper, practically an advertisement, talking all about how they were going to grow teeth – just inject something in your gums and they’d grow right back, good as new. This formula might be that stuff, or it might be stolen from their competition.
Well, whatever. It was something for the cops to look into, I’d give them the details, if they asked nicely.
I headed back to the office, picked up a bottle of whiskey along the way. I trudged up the stairs and opened the door…there was somebody in there, sat in my chair. I put my hand on my revolver before I recognised the face, it was Fred’s wife.
“Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?” she says, with a wry half-grin.
I hang my hat and coat on the stand before I place the booze on the desk. I walk round to my chair and open a drawer, take out a couple of glasses. I need to lean over to do this and can’t help glancing at her cleavage; damn she smells nice. I walk back around to the other side and pour out a couple of shots.
“Fred’s dead. Sorry about that. You have my condolences.” I raise my glass to toast his memory, and drain it in one go.
She took up her glass and turned it around in her hands for a few seconds. “Thanks.” She looked up at me “was he in some kind of trouble?”
“I don’t know, I just saw him get shot by Gina’s tonight. The other guy got away. You got something you wanna tell me?” I said, looking her in the eye.
“Me? Why would I know anything?” she says, all wide eyed and startled. “I hired you because I thought he was having an affair, don’t you remember?”
“Yeah” I said, as I sat back in the chair and lit up a cigarette, “only I don’t buy it. You knew something was up, you knew he wasn’t having an affair. Think about it, who was after that formula?”
“Formula?” she asks, confused
“Yeah, the formula” I replied, leaning forward, “Who did Fred know at Denta-tek?”
“Denta-tek? I don’t know, what has this got to do with anything? Did they kill him?”
“Maybe, I dunno” I said, leaning back into the chair again. “Somethin’ stinks, and it ain’t just my breath. Anyway, job’s done, so if you don’t mind, you can just leave the rest of the money on the desk on your way out; I’ve got work to do.”
“Have you called the police?” she said, standing up.
“No, they’re big boys; they’ll figure it out for themselves.”
She took out her purse, opened it and then paused with her hand in it. “Look, I need to find out what happened to Fred. I’ll pay you extra, whatever you want”.
I could have told her no, I could have told her to pay some other private dick with an expensive alcohol problem, but I just had to give in didn’t I? I’m a pushover for broads.
Besides, I needed to find out what happened tonight anyway, or it would have been eating me up for weeks. I made damned sure that she paid me the other half for the first job though, plus a sizeable amount up front for this one.
Where to start? Well, there was Mr A Sollis from Denta-tek. So I brushed my teeth, cleaned myself up, put on my best suit and went round to their offices. I told them that I was an investor and I would only speak with Mr Sollis and not with anybody else; this worked because Mr Sollis was a Sales Executive (whatever that’s supposed to mean), and he was happy to see me if it meant a commission for him.
He asked me some questions which I batted away with vague answers; then he gave me the spiel, really laid it on; told me that their technology would make me a lot of money. After he’d finished, I asked him about how safe my investment would be, asked him about their competitors and what they were up to.
“We flat out don’t have any competitors, nobody can touch what we have.”
“Not even one? What about Enamerus?”
“They haven’t got our technology Mr Coulter. No sir, they haven’t got a chance”
“How safe is that formula Mr Sollis? I don’t want anybody stealing it and selling it to the highest bidder.”
Mr Sollis looked puzzled and a little bit uncomfortable at this. “No, that won’t happen I can assure you, we keep that safely under lock and key.”
We said our goodbyes, I told him that my lawyer would be in touch, and I went back to my office.
I had nothing, even if Arthur Sollis had been in that alleyway, what would he be doing stealing his own formula from Fred? What would Fred be doing with the formula?
Unless…unless Denta-tek only thought they had the formula, and Arthur had stolen it but then had somehow lost it or had it taken from him, and Fred…nah, that didn’t make sense. Unless Arthur had stolen it and then put it in a safety deposit box at the bank…but then, why Fred? He didn’t seem like the type.
I headed back to the office and poured myself a drink. Dammit, what was going on here? Arthur steals the formula, puts it in the bank…did Fred’s wife have anything to do with this? Did she send Fred to collect the formula?
I would have to talk with her again. Just then, there was a phone call.
“This is Lieutenant Barnes, down at the fifth precinct. I heard you been round to Denta-tek, talking with a Mr Sollis.”
“Yeah, I was thinking about making an investment.”
“Don’t bullshit me, the only investment you make is in getting drunk. I also heard that somebody saw you by Gina’s the day that Fred Marlowe got shot”
“You’re not trying to pin this on me are ya?”
“I’m not trying anything, but if I get one whiff that you were involved Coulter, then I’m hauling your ass in.”
“On what charge?”
“Suspicion of murder, that’ll do for a start.”
“It won’t stick, you’ve got anecdotal evidence at best”
“It’ll do, then I can pin obstruction of justice, perverting the course of justice, fraud..”
“Fraud? Gimmie a break…”
“You took how much money off Mrs Marlow?”
“She knew what she was getting into, maybe more than you think.”
“You better tell me everything you know Coulter, starting with why you were hanging around Gina’s that night.”
“Sure, I’ll drop by sometime. Give my love to your wife”, I put the phone down.
Damned cops, always trying to muscle in and get a promotion out of my hard work, if they weren’t being paid by outside interests…
Later that night, I decided that I wanted to sleep on a bed for a change so I left the office. I was walking down the street, deep in thought when I heard some footsteps, then something hard hit me on the back of my head and I blacked out.
Some water got thrown over my face and I woke up sat in a wooden chair, my hands were tied behind my back and I had to blink and shake my head (which hurt like a son-of-a-bitch) to get the water out of my eyes. There were two men in suits stood in front of me, one of them was holding a bucket, the other one was wearing a knuckle-duster.
“Where’s the formula mac?” asked Mr Bucket.
“I dunno, somebody must’ve ran off with it, that night…” I got thumped in the stomach by Mr Knuckles, hard.
“Are you sure Mr Coulter?” asked Mr Bucket
“Yes, for fuck’s sake, yes. I didn’t get it. What’s it worth anyhow? Who are you…”
“We’ll ask the questions Mr Coulter. So you don’t know anything huh? You seen Mrs Marlow recently?”
“No, but I wanna find her, need to ask her about Fred.”
“Yeah, well she left town. You don’t know where she is?”
Mr Knuckles raised his fists, getting ready to punch me again.
“No, but if you find her will you let me know?”
“You’ll let us know, Mr Coulter, and you’ll let us know if you find out who has the formula”.
“Yeah, sure” I said as I coughed and sputtered.
They knocked me out again.
I woke up on the sidewalk where I’d been, with another damned headache. They hadn’t taken anything from my pockets, except for the Denta-tek card from before.
I reached my front door and locked it behind me -that was quite enough excitement for one night, thank you very much. I threw my hat and coat over a chair, loosened my tie and undid my shirt button. Went into the kitchen, took a half empty bottle from the cupboard along with a tumbler, and poured myself a large glass as I walked back into the front room.
“Why, hello Mr Coulter, I was hoping you’d be back sooner. I’ve been waiting a while” said a sensuous female voice. I knew that voice.
I looked up from my glass to see Mrs Marlowe, sprawled on the couch, long legs draped over one side, her arms propping her up so that the curve of her breasts were pronounced, moving with each breath which passed her voluptuous lips, a wanton look on her face.
“You’ll have to do better than that baby, I just got beat up on account of you. I heard you skipped town, and there’s a couple of dogs after you, so maybe you’d better beat it.”
She stood up and walked over to me, laying a hand on my shoulder and taking the glass from my hand “oh, come now. You don’t mean that Joe”, she said as she raised whiskey to her mouth, looking at me with those big eyes.
“My headache and my gut are telling me I do. What’s your end in all of this? Did you send Fred to sell that formula to somebody?”
She looked down at my crotch for a second, then back up at me “well what if I did? Anyway, he didn’t have it; the formula he had was a fake.”
“How do you know? And didn’t you know your husband was going to get killed?”
“No, I didn’t know he was going to get killed! He was just supposed to get the money and come back home. Oh Joe, Fred wasn’t a bad man; the marriage was dead and it just wasn’t working out…but I didn’t want him killed!” she made to walk away from me but I held onto her wrist and spun her around.
“Now look lady, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got goons and cops onto me and I wanna know why. Where’s the formula?”
She looked at me reproachfully “It’s in a safe deposit box, out of town”.
I shook her “Where out of town?!”
“Chicago! But I won’t tell you which bank unless you take me with you when you go!”
“Chicago? There better not be anybody waiting for me when I get there lady, or it’ll be bad for both of us. Who else knows about this?”
“Nobody, just me and you”. The look in her eyes told me that she was telling the truth, or she thought she was.
“Alright lady, we’ll drive there. Meet me in the Grasshopper at 10am sharp tomorrow morning, got it?”
She nodded, and then looked up at me again. I didn’t feel like caving into this woman tonight, for all that I wanted to grab her and have my way with her, so I grabbed her coat and pushed her out the door, waived down a cab and went back inside.
Next morning, I walked over to my car and tried starting her up, but she didn’t come to life, so I called up Wayne and had him pick her up and take her to his shop.
After I walked out of that place, with a heavy head and a light pocket, I walked to a payphone and called the broad, explained that the car was out of order so we’d have to meet up at the end of the week. She wasn’t too happy about this, but what could we do? Grab a train? Forget that, too much of a risk. I told her to lay low.
I did too, didn’t take on any more cases that week and kept out of sight.
Then the day comes and I’m sat in the Grasshopper, waiting for her to show up. At 1pm, the barkeep tells me to go to the phone at the end of the bar. I pick up the receiver and it’s the dame, hysterical.
“Joe! Oh thank God! I need you to come round Joe, right now! They’re coming for me Joe, they’re coming I know it!”
“Calm down lady, did they call you? Did you see anybody snooping around?”
“Somebody called last night, there wasn’t any voice but I answered and…they’re coming Joe!”
“Stay right there, I’ll be right over”.
I hung up and went to Wayne’s, picked up the car and drove straight over to the address she gave me, as fast as I could. It was out of town so I picked up speed once I got outside of city limits, only letting off the gas when I was going round a corner.
It was then that I noticed that the brakes weren’t working.
I had just enough time to wonder who’d paid Wayne to do this, and thinking maybe I should have taken the train, before the tree smacked into the car and I jolted forward and blacked out.
Based on a prompt from CreativeWritingPrompts.com