August. Hot and sweaty. It was the kind of day where wishing the air conditioning would finally work became top of the to do list. Shirts clung to sweaty backs and lemonade entrepreneurs were raising their prices from ten cents to twenty-five. Boy my shirt was clinging to me like wet seaweed clings to rocks. The only cool thing in the room was my wallet, an empty chasm that sat by a glass as full as promises made by politicians.
I leaned back in my chair and dreamed of cheap cigars and cheaper bourbon. A dream I could only accomplish if my wallet had something more than my blockbuster card in it, and since the store wasn’t around anymore, I put the card to good use jimmy-ing doors open. I had nothing to do. I was counting ceiling tiles. I found more interest in the Home Shopping Network than in my own life.
I was going in slow motion that day, the day she walked in. She was like a dream and I was fast asleep. Her red lips pouted as she walked over to me. Her long, smooth legs seemed to have a mind of their own. She was the kind of woman who stank of trouble…and of Seduction by Calvin Klein. My mother warned me of dames like her, but who could think of their mother at a time like this?
I shook my head and whistled, “Baby, you’re the woman of my dreams, but I’d settle for dinner in a hot tub”
She put her hands on my desk and leaned forward, her long blond hair falling into her eyes. “I don’t date boys like you.”
“Then why are you here?” I could hear her nails tapping rapidly on my desk. Those long red nails looked sharp enough to dig into someone’s flesh and come out with bone. How I envied my desk.
“I want to hire you.”
“Then I am at your service. Day or night, you know to talk about your case, over wine and cheese”
She leaned closer, her low cut dress falling slightly away from her body. I noticed how big her bo…uh, blue eyes were.
“I could do better than you at the dog kennel across the street.” She said.
For a hot day, it was mighty chilly in here.
“I think my husband’s having an affair,” she continued.
“You’re married?” I did not disguise the shock in my voice.
“And you’re not,” she simply stated, “Do you want the case?”
She had taken a cheap shot, a low blow, a kidney punch. She had insulted me and liked it. But I needed the money about as badly as I needed my landlady to take a one-way trip to the padded walls and strait jacket confines of Langley Mental Institution. Swallowing my pride was as bitter as swallowing aspirin with a glass of lemon juice.
“What is it you want me to do?”
She sat down in the chair across the room. The leather groaned as she shifted positions and crossed her legs.
“Get me proof.” She took out a cigarette and squeezed it between her fingers, “got a light?”
“No.” I said, “Cigarettes’ll kill you.”
“Funny, you seem like the smoking type to me.”
“Honey, I gave those up after an unfortunate incident at the gas station. The sign said, ‘No Smoking,’ and now I believe it.”
I could tell by the way she rolled her eyes that she knew she was dealing with one bright private eye. She shook her head and began her story.
Her name was Lisa Loveless and she grew up dirty. From the neighborhood to the sports park, that seedy side permeated every brick on every house. She fell in love immediately with Slick Sidekick, and let me say, he wasn’t exactly squeaky clean himself. Slick ran the city, and if he didn’t like you, there was always the piano wire necktie.
Their love was textbook. Their marriage was sealed in a dirty chapel in Las Vegas. Slick’s best man was Slug, his testosterone-overdose of a bodyguard.
If I were to tell the story, here’s how it’d go:
A month ago Slick started working late, making secret phone calls and smelling like cheap perfume.
Lisa got suspicious and called on me, Rip Slippup.
Slick owned a bar just down the block. I thought I’d drop in and pay him a friendly visit.
Slick’s bar was located in a nice part of town. The blue neon sign the flashed SLICK’S was a beeper to the seedy, drug dealing thugs and their dates who clung to their arms like leeches clinging to warm, blood-filled flesh.
I had no date, but I was feeling very thirsty. I walked up to the door.
“Hey! Where ya goin?”
I turned to see a man who seemed to be nothing more than muscle. On his best day he probably enjoyed kicking puppies. Nasty, mean and ruthless. I decided to be cool, relaxed, non-chalant.
“I need a drink. My throat’s dryer than Death Valley in the middle of June.
“My what?” I knew I was in trouble.
“You mean you don’t have a card?” He took a step toward me.
“Do you take Blockbuster membership cards?” I turned to make a fast exit and ran into his bulging fist. It felt like someone had just stamped ‘VOID’ on my forehead.
He smiled and grabbed my shirt. He pulled me to him, “I know who you are. Slick wants to see you. Now!”
“The question isn’t whether Slick wants to see me, “ I sneered at him, “It’s if I want to see Slick. Now let go, you brainless mess of steroid-infested bulge.”
I felt his hands tighten on my shirt, “Say that again.”
And. I. Did.
I woke up in a room tied to a chair. The bump on my head felt as big as the Tetons and I had a rock-climber of a headache slowly making its way up my left temple.
‘This is it,’ I thought, ‘it’s time to cash in my chips. My only regret was never taking those mamba classes.’
Just then Slick walked through the door. He strutted back and forth in his black Armani suit. His lean figure occasionally twitched like a nervous addict pumped full of cocaine. His black hair, as dark as a moonless night, had more grease in it than the fryer at the local McDonalds.
“Nice hair, Slick,” I said, “Pep Boys have a special on Quaker State?”
Slick leaned toward me, “You know what I think?” He looked down. “I think you need a new pair of shoes. How does a nine ½ cement sound?”
“I don’t know…got anything in athletic wear?”
He hit me and my vision blurred. When it finally swam into focus, his ugly mug was right in my face. His eyes danced in a synchronized rhythm that only he could hear. Looking at his face was as painful as snorting chlorinated water while doing the breast stroke. I could feel his breath on me. It smelled like spearmint tic-tacs and the acidic scent of lingering onions. I knew then that his breath wasn’t the only thing he was trying to hide.
“Stay away from my dame.” He said softly, “She’d be trouble for you.”
Trouble seemed like the kind of thing I liked to get into. It was a trusty sidearm, a canine companion, an old pair of slippers. Trouble was what m always warned me about, and I could hear her shrill voice dishing out motherly advice from her ice cream container of matronly concern: “You boys never could get along That’s why we separated the two of you, and that’s what sent Pa, God rest his soul, to an early grave.”
The door then opened and a short, old lady walked into the room. Slick and I turned our heads toward the door, “MA?!” We cried in unison. Our heads jolted back toward each other.
“No…” Slick’s face drained of blood.
“Oh please…” I begged, “…please just do me in now.”
Ma walked over to Slick and yanked on his ear. He yelped and bent over.
“Untie your brother.” She said.
“Aw, Ma…” He whined.
Slick slowly untied my hands. His face was contorted in a mask of rage and pain. I’d seen that mask once before. I was at the dentists office.
Ma nodded her approval and left us staring at each other in a stupefied horror.
Slick spoke first, “Leave.”
And I did…
I knew it was going to be one of those days. I knew it the moment I woke up and fell out of bed. Yeah, days like these almost make one welcome the heat, August, sweat and lemonade. Thirty cents now. What a shame.
Slick and I were separated when I was about nine months. Slick was only two and I guess Ma and Pa, God rest his soul, figured it wasn’t going to work out between us.
We both grew up the way we did. Slick worked his way up through the Mafia. I worked my way up through McDonald’s management before finally getting my P.I. license through correspondent courses. Slick has his bar, and me, well, I have my office. The darkness felt good when I walked in. I reluctantly turned on a light and sat behind my desk. I opened a drawer and took out a bottle.
Yes, it was a hot day. The heat swam before my eyes like a pair of synchronized swimmers.
She interrupted my thoughts when she walked in. I looked up, she sat down. “Well?”
“The only other dame in his life is his ma. He still loves you, Lisa.”
She smiled and stood up. I watched as she fished in her purse with her hand. She caught and delivered a mackerel of an envelope and threw it on my desk.
“Thanks.” She said, then turned and walked out. I watched her go, her long legs slowly gliding across the room, then I turned away.
The envelope contained a little more than two hundred dollars and with that kind of money, really, who could think of one’s sister-in-law at a time like this?
I needed a drink, and I knew where I was headed.