Okay, so my Monday visitor hadn’t actually been a Demon From Hell. The difference, however was more theological than physical.
With my death-defying sprint from a real live Demon From Hell still a blissful four days away, I unlocked my office that morning with a song in my heart and a stack of unpaid bills in my hand.
Technically, I don’t really need an office. I could work from home. No commute required. Not that it’s much of a commute, since I live within walking distance. But I prefer having an office because the spouses of my clients occasionally get a little testy when they find out their trysts were documented. Having an office puts a buffer zone between my home life and angry reprisals.
Okay, that’s not true: there are no angry reprisals. The spouses of the people who hire me never even know my name. The fact is, I wanted the office because it went with the whole “private investigator” image.
And the office I found is perfect. It’s in an old art deco building at 310 King Street West, tucked between the Princess of Wales Theatre to the east and the old Eclipse Building to the west (original home of the Toronto Sun).
The entrance is steel-plated with an honest-to-God revolving door with swing doors on either side. The steel is decorated with that squarish-squiggle you see on Greek yoghurt containers. On the curved steel canopy above the revolving doors the name of the building is written in raised letters: “Reid Anderson Garments.” Inside is a lobby with a black and white tile floor. On the right is a small hole-in-the-wall coffee shop and newspaper stand. To the left is an old, rickety Turnbull elevator. The elevator was “modernized” back when elevator operators softly and silently vanished away, but has remained virtually untouched since — except for occasional maintenance to keep it vaguely operational. Aside from the lobby, all the rest of the floors throughout the building are wooden slats that creak in a most satisfying way.
My office is on the fourth floor at the opposite end of the hallway from the elevator. To get there you walk past 11 other offices, six on the right, and five on the left (the sixth on the left is mine). One of the other offices houses a jewellers, another is a small publishing company. The rest — I have no idea.
All the doors have a large frosted glass pane, but only mine has a name on it. I spent almost my entire first month’s salary on a sign painter, because I wanted my door to be like the one in The Maltese Falcon that read, “Spade and Archer: Private Investigators.” I wanted mine to read, “Robert Fielding: Private Investigator.”
What it actually reads is, “R. Fielding: PI.”
(Those sign painters charge by the letter — did you know that?)
The only thing missing is a platinum blonde secretary in the reception room. This, however, isn’t possible. First, I barely make enough to pay the rent, so a secretary of any hair colour is right out of picture. Second, I don’t have a reception room. I just have the one room and it’s very small.
In lieu of a platinum blond secretary, however, I have a large poster of Kim Basinger in her role as Lynn Bracken from L.A. Confidential. (Yes, the shot where she’s wearing that white dress and kind of reclining.)
My desk was directly opposite the door, which leaves just enough space for a visitor’s chair. When the door opens it clears the back of the chair by about six inches. The desk is unusually large desk. I got it for free when another old building along King was being torn down and all the office furniture given away to whoever wanted it. It’s solid oak, wide enough to land small planes on. There are two drawers on the left, one being a small catch-all for pens and such, the other being a deep drawer suitable for filing — should I ever get around to keeping files. On the right side are three regular-sized drawers. If you open the catch-all drawer and push a lever hidden above it, a secret drawer drops down in the leg space.
This should not be done while sitting with your legs in the leg space.
Anyhow, enough with the atmosphere.
That particular Monday I unlocked my office, picked up a stack of bills that had been slipped through the brass-lined letter box and added them to the ones I’d brought from home. I deposited the entire stack on a small side table to the right of the door, just underneath Kim’s poster while saying a quick “Morning, Kim” as I hung my coat on the coat rack next to the table. After encouraging the coffee maker on my desk to kick out some fairly decent coffee, I sat down and opened my appointment book.
This is a ritual with little or no practical value. I’ve been trying for some time to be organised, which I understand involves writing things down. Problem is, I’m not really an organised kind of guy. Sometimes I write stuff down. Sometimes I don’t. Mostly I don’t. But even when I do, I invariable either forget important details, such as names and phone numbers, or I scribble so badly that interpretation becomes a job for skilled linguistic experts.
Fortunately, business is still light enough that notes aren’t really necessary since at most I have two appointments per day. While this is bad for my income, it’s handy for understanding those notes I occasionally make. Today, for instance, there was an entry for 10:00 which read, “Padle — becgale – pldtoqraphs ef Mr. Stanbn.” Had business been brisk enough to actually need these notes I would never have been able to decipher it as meaning, “Paula — bicycle — photographs of Mr. Stanton.”
I’ve given the impression that I only deal with cheating spouses, but over the last few months I’d been picking up some work from insurance companies, trying to get photographs of claimants doing things they shouldn’t have been able to do if the injuries they were claiming were real. A man who says he can’t walk because of an injury sustained by slipping on someone’s icy side walk, for instance, shouldn’t be out dancing at The Guvernment club — like a certain Mr. Haney was doing a few weeks back.
Mr. Stanton, however, was proving to be more of a challenge. Claiming that a work-place injury had crippled his leg (although several doctors had failed to find any damage), he was a veritable method actor who stuck to his role religiously. In a final, desperate attempt to catch him out I’d devised a scheme employing Paula, a friend of mine, which we would be putting into effect later that morning.
I had no sooner picked up the phone to call her, however, than my door banged open and through it barged a gangster big enough to have carved Mount Rushmore single-handedly — and without a ladder. I could tell he was a gangster because he was dressed in an official gangster suit, complete with fedora. Most of his suit bulged with muscle, but there was an extra bulge where a well-dressed gangster would carry his gun.
“You’re working the Robinson case?” he boomed.
Well, one of the first things Ms Sanchez’s legs had taught me was that client privacy is sacred. “The only time you should give up a client’s name,” she’d stressed, “is when presented with a warrant.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m working for Mr. Robinson.”
Okay, in my defence, the guy had kind of surprised me, plus I didn’t have Ms Sanchez’s legs on hand for guidance. Besides, I figured his imposing presence and threatening demeanour served as a kind of warrant: the kind that warranted me giving him a quick answer.
“Well, you’re off it!” he snapped. “As of right now! Unless you want to spend the next few months in the hospital!”
I glanced down at my appointment book. There was no entry for “crzed, vilent gangstr,” in it. I deduced that this was an unscheduled visit.
I’ve set up a page that explains the background on the story and will contain notes on each chapter — or at least some of the chapters. A bit hard to know when I’m not even sure what’s going to be in most of the chapters. Check the tab, Story Notes: No spoilers. Hovering over it will give links to the origins of the story, and to each chapter as it’s published (given that the chapter actually has notes, which, as I’ve mentioned, may not be true). Warning — Read the chapter first, otherwise the notes may be an inadvertent spoiler.
This is my second entry in the February writing challenge, “30 Minus 2 Days of Writing: III” (or 30M2DoW — and thanks for the acronym, Paula), issued by We Work for Cheese, the rules for which, such as they are, I am completely ignoring — except the attempt to post each day during the month.