So, there I was, a licenced private investigator working out of a dingy office in an ancient art deco building when an enormous, honest-to-God, fully-decked-out gangster barges through the door to order me off a case or risk hospitalisation.
This was just all kinds of noir.
Taking a brief moment to collect my thoughts (and make a quick check to see if Veronica Lake’s ghost was going to come through the wall), I answered.
“Okay,” I said. “Fine.”
I did mention the part where he was really enormous, right?
“Listen, punk,” he growled.
Punk? Does anyone really say that any more?
“I’m not kidding about this. I will put you in the hospital for a very long time. Your kisser” (“kisser”?) “will look like it’s been through a meat grinder, and your body will be twisted in ways it was never meant to be twisted.”
“Yep,” I said. “Got the picture. I’m off the case.”
There was no stopping him, though. I had the distinct feeling his speech had been carefully rehearsed. Possibly in front of a mirror. Probably while wearing his gangster suit.
“I’ll bounce you around like my own little rubber ball,” he continued, “and by the time I’m finished you’ll start to think you like it.”
Wait — isn’t that ‘rubber ball’ crack from The Glass Key? Maybe we really had awoken Veronica Lake’s ghost.
“Got it,” I said.
“Of course you realise,” he continued with even more menace, “I’ll only be intending to hospitalise you. With this kind of thing accidents can happen.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess that pretty well wraps it up. No problem.”
“And when I say accidents,” he said, “I mean the fatal kind, the kind that …” He stopped. “What did you say?”
“I said ‘yes.’ I’ll drop the case. Yes.”
“You’ll drop the case, huh?” he said. “Just like that?”
“Hardly ‘just like that'” I protested. “If I had my druthers I’d keep the case because it’s a steady income for at least four weeks, and that’s more security than I’ve had in months. So I’m not dropping it ‘just like that.’ I’m dropping it because although dropping it will cost me the loss of one temporary income source, not dropping it will cost me the loss of all income sources. Probably for several months.”
“Oh,” he said, and paused. “So, uh — you’re saying that you’re going to drop the case.”
“Yes,” I confirmed. Again.
“How do I know you’re not just saying that to get me out of your office?”
“Because if I did,” I said reasonably, “then you would be back in my office very soon, and I suspect your disposition would not be nearly as compassionate and gentle as it is right now.”
He looked at me for a moment. He didn’t smile, but his scowl relaxed a bit.
“You really believe me, don’t you?” he said.
“Yes. I have no reason not to believe you. On the other hand, I’m staring at about 250 fat-free pounds of compelling reasons to treat your every word as gospel. I am, in fact, persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor breadth, nor any other creature would be able to separate me from a hospital bed were I to pursue the case whereof we speak.”
This time he actually tightened the upper cheek muscles a little bit. On a normal human being this would have looked like the start of a smile.
“Death would,” he said.
“You said ‘neither death nor life’ would keep you from that hospital bed. Death would. You’d go to a morgue, not a hospital.”
“Good point,” I acknowledged.
“Anyhow,’ he said nodding slightly. “You’d better be persuaded. You like Romans? Just think of me as a Roman centurion — a really, really mean Roman centurion. But to satisfy that nasty little part of my mind that often thinks people might be telling me what I want to hear just ’cause I’ve got a bit of a physical advantage, would you mind telling me one more time?”
“I am off the Robinson case,” I said, restraining myself from putting my hand over my heart. “I will phone Mr. Robinson after five o’clock when he gets home from work. During the course of that call I will inform Mr. Robinson that circumstances have arisen making it impossible for me to continue working for him. I will then tell him that his retainer fee will be deposited back into his account by tomorrow at the latest.”
He looked at me a moment longer, then shook his head slightly. “Well, I gotta admit, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you. And you did good. I was really afraid you’d be too stupid to believe me. And that you’d mistake that stupidity for bravery.”
He turned to leave and spotted the poster of Kim. Half-turning back with an actual expression of delight he said, “Hey — that’s… .” He rearranged his face back into its scowl and continued in a gruffer tone, “That’s a peach of a dame there.” He paused, then left, closing the door behind him.
I sat back in my chair and looked across at Kim.
“Shorry shweetheart,” I said in my best Bogart accent, which was admittedly quite bad. “I don’t mind a reashonable amount of trouble — but that washn’t reashonable.”
There are notes to this chapter, which can be found by hovering over the “Story Notes: No spoilers” tab at the top of the page.
Warning — Read the chapter first, otherwise the notes may be an inadvertent spoiler.
This is my third entry in the February writing challenge, “30 Minus 2 Days of Writing: III” (or 30M2DoW) 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.