A seedy office, a hard-nosed gumshoe, and a missing ring.
Where this would lead was not where anyone could have expected.
She stepped into my office, stopped and looked around. It didn’t take long; it was a small office. Her expression showed she wasn’t impressed. That was OK. It didn’t impress me much, either.
In fact, I rarely met clients in my office. A private detective tends to get most jobs over the telephone. People call, ask if you can handle a problem they describe briefly, you say you can, they ask how much you charge, you tell them, and they usually hang up. Why doesn’t it work like that on TV, or in books? Those book guys never get turned down because their fees are too high. No one cares whether they can afford to eat, let alone maintain an office.
I probably shouldn’t have rented the office. I only had it because it seemed more professional than working out of my car, and if someone insisted on coming to my office, it was better than having them show up at my apartment. Sometimes a detective’s clients are the sort of people who’d scare the neighbors, the sort of people I didn’t want knowing where I lived.
Her quick glance at me showed she had the same opinion of me that she did of the office. I could understand it with respect to the office. It wasn’t very large, the desk was second hand, and the couch I napped on in the afternoon when I’d just had lunch and was feeling sleepy looked a bit scruffy. But then maybe she thought I did, too. Personally I preferred the word ‘rugged’. I didn’t ask her for her opinion. Asking it wouldn’t have been professional.
Her look changed from disdain to suspicion. She said, “Mr. Wisdom?”
“Briar Wisdom, yes.”
She appeared to be coming to a decision. I didn’t mind. I’d be doing the same thing in her shoes. Detectives are used to it. People decide they want someone to do something for them, but it’s often awkward or embarrassing. Talking about it can be humiliating, and if they have to sit down and open up to a complete stranger, well, many potential customers are shy about the whole thing. That’s why most of my inquiries were done on the phone. That and the fact it was easier to just hang up when courage failed than to have to try saving face while getting up and walking out.
I was watching her eyes so saw her decide. She stood a little taller, then took the two steps necessary to reach my desk. I had stood up when she’d entered, and so was there to accommodate her when she offered her hand.
“I’m Margery Bookman. I checked with someone I know in the police department, and he said you’d be a good person to talk to.”
I motioned her to my one client chair and sat down in my desk chair. “May I ask who in the police department recommended me?”
That stopped her for a moment, but then she said, “I guess it doesn’t matter. It was Sergeant Felini. He’s married to a friend of mine. Why? Is it important?”
“I have some friends there, and some who aren’t friends. Nice to know who’s recommending me. Frank is one of those who’s in my corner.” That was indeed important. Frank wouldn’t send me a prospective client he thought would be trying to set me up for something. It was good to know that.
She nodded. “I see.” Then she stopped to consider something and simply looked at me, and I waited. Detectives do a lot of waiting, and I’d become good at it.
Finally, she wiggled in her chair, sat up straighter, and said, “I guess I have to talk about it if I want your help. OK. This is what happened. My husband Sam got downsized. About a month ago. He hasn’t been able to even get an interview anywhere, and it’s really doing a number on his ego. Several times now, he’s left after dinner and gone to a bar.”
She stopped. Her eyes were assessing me, looking for reactions. I simply looked back, showing no emotion at all. I didn’t think this was a situation where my winsome smile would be appropriate.
“Two nights ago, he didn’t come home after he left. I was worried, of course, and called my friend Barbara, Sergeant Felini’s wife. She spoke to her husband, and he said to wait and see if Sam came home the next day. I did, and he did. He looked awful, but refused to answer any questions or talk about it.”
She straightened up in the chair, and her eyes became steely. “That wasn’t going to fly and he knew it. I let him have it, and he told me what had happened. I can get a little aggressive when I have to.”
There was no apology in that, just a statement of fact. I gave her a slight nod of acknowledgement, but didn’t speak. It’s surprising how often it is that things work out better when I don’t speak.
She continued. “He’d got drunk. He’d been with a friend who’d encouraged him and he’d picked up a whore. They went to a motel the whore told him about. They did what you do with a whore. Or he thinks maybe he did. He says he doesn’t remember. And I believe him. He only remembers going to the motel with her, checking in, getting undressed with her, having a drink, and that’s it. The next thing he remembers is waking up on the bed, naked, with all his things gone. Everything. He called a friend who came to get him, bringing some clothes. The guy drove him home.”
If it had been hard for her to say this, it didn’t show. I got the idea Mrs. Bookman was a pretty strong woman.
She stopped, but didn’t look down. She kept her eyes fixed on mine. Whatever had happened, whatever her husband had done, she was not ashamed of any part she’d played in it.
It was my turn to speak. “And what would you like me to do?”
“When he was robbed, she took his ring. It was a ring I gave him. It was my grandfather’s, and then my father’s. I want it back.”
I nodded. “OK.”
We discussed fees, which surprisingly weren’t a deterrent, and I was hired. I told her I’d have to talk to her husband. She said her husband should be home now and I could meet him there, or arrange to meet him somewhere else. I said somewhere else would be better and told her I’d call him and set it up. She said she’d speak to him so he’d be expecting my call.
The next day just after noon I met Mr. Bookman at Mike’s, a downtown bar I sometimes used for meetings like this. It was quiet during the day and had booths where we wouldn’t be overheard. I hadn’t wanted to meet him at his home as he’d have likely been more reticent there with reminders of his wife wherever he looked when he wasn’t meeting my eye. I’d discovered people I questioned in a position like his rarely made eye contact, and I’d stopped expecting it. My office would have been OK for us to meet, but at a bar, if he had a drink or two, his tongue might very well be lubricated, always a good thing in a questionee when you’re working.
Marjorie Bookman had described her husband, so I knew who he was when he walked in and stood by the door, looking around somewhat vaguely. I walked over to him, introduced myself, and led him to a back booth.
Sam was about 40 and decent looking, though he could have used a haircut. Hadn’t developed a middle-aged paunch yet. Wore decent slacks and a dress shirt and sports jacket without a tie. Looked nervous and a little defiant. Didn’t want to be there.
I couldn’t blame him, but caring about how he felt wasn’t part of my job.
He ordered scotch. It wasn’t much past noon, and the thought of a scotch gave me the shivers. I ordered a beer to be friendly and simpatico. He knocked back half of his scotch when it came. I ordered him another before Brisco, the bartender, could get away. I took a sip of beer. I’d recently switched away from Mexican beers to Stella Artois and then Amstel Light. I’d missed some of the more bitter bite of the European pilsners and lagers. Brisco’s draft was OK, but then, almost any beer is.
“I guess you know your wife hired me to get your ring back?”
He looked up from his scotch. He didn’t hold my eyes long, just a glance and back down at his drink again. Maybe I’d do the same in his shoes. No job, rolled by a whore, exposed by his wife, lost something she valued—he couldn’t be feeling all that good about himself right then.
“Yeah,” he managed.
“Well, I need to ask a few questions. The more you cooperate here, the quicker I’ll get done with this and be out of your life. Where did you meet this woman?”
“There’s a place down on Brighton, just past Colfax, The Gobbler. I’ve gone there a few nights recently. Just to get out, you know. My wife can be, well… just to get out.”
“And what happened?”
“I went to sit at the bar. This guy I’ve seen there a couple of times was there, and so I sat next to him. Kind of feels, I don’t know, empty maybe, to drink by yourself. Anyway, he was there, and so I joined him. We had a couple, and began to chat. I guess I got to complaining a little. Life’s been shitty for a while, and it helps to grouch about it. This guy listened. He was good at that.”
Brisco brought the second scotch, just in time as Sam was draining his first one at that moment. Brisco set the glass on the table and looked at me. I nodded. He left. Sam took a sip of the new one.
“And?” I said, greasing the wheel. Part of my smooth technique.
“We had a couple more, and my complaining started to include how it’s not much fun at home any more, either. Probably said too much, but after a while, the guy told me what I needed was to get laid. Said he knew how to arrange that, too.
“I didn’t argue the point, so he got the idea I was up for it. He got off his stool and walked away a little to make a phone call, then came back and we had another drink. I was feeling pretty loose by then. In a few minutes, this woman comes in and sits down next to me. The guy introduces us. Doris was her name. Fairly young, younger than I was, probably mid-twenties. Looker too, and built pretty nice. Doesn’t look like a whore. I buy her a drink, and we talk, and pretty soon her hand’s on my thigh.
“I ask if she wants another one, and she says she’s got a better idea, and to come with her. So I say, what the hell, settle the tab and off we go. I tell her I walked to the bar and she looks a little annoyed at that but says she has her own car. She drives us to this motel out on route 341, the Blue Heron. I register.”
He took a healthy slug of scotch, nearly emptying the glass. That was OK. Brisco had been keeping an eye on things and was on his way back.
I didn’t need to prompt him this time. He was into telling his story. “We get in the room and she’s at me. Unbuttoning my shirt, loosening my belt, even touching me down below through my pants. Hey, it’s been a dry spell at home lately. I’m ready to go.
“She stops playing with me and undresses herself. Down to the skin, you know? So we’re both naked, and she looks me over, smiles and nods like she likes what she sees, and says, “A drink first. Smooths the way, makes it more fun.” Well, I’d had enough already, but the drive over had taken the edge off, and you know that feeling when the alcohol starts to wear off just slightly and you wouldn't mind getting it back. A drink sounded good, so I say OK, and she takes two of those little bottles out of the mini-bar, pours them into those crap plastic glasses motels have, then hands me mine, and we drink and I’m ready, you know? No more time wasting. She gets on the bed, lies on her back, and says, “Come here, big boy,” and I smile and get on the bed and everything gets fuzzy all of a sudden and that’s the very last thing I remember.”
“Till you woke up,” I say.
“Yeah, till then. It was morning. My clothes were gone, and there I was. I have a friend where I used to work and I called him, and he came. Thank god. But that’s it. The whole story.”
I nodded. Took a sip of beer. If I drink in the middle of the day, I tend to take long naps, which isn’t good for my productivity.
“Did Doris give you a last name?”
“Was she with you when you checked in, or still in the car?”
“She stayed in the car.”
“You didn’t see her put anything in the drink?”
“I wasn’t exactly watching her hands, ya know. She had a good-looking ass, if you want the honest truth, and my eyes were busy there.”
His words were slurring a bit. I wasn’t surprised.
“You didn’t taste anything funny?”
“I was thinking ahead. Didn’t even notice.”
I thought he seemed rather unconcerned by the whole thing, maybe more than he should have been. I’d met his wife. I didn’t hear much emotion, not even embarrassment. But maybe it was just the scotch that had him loosened up. He was making a mess of his diphthongs. That usually tells you something. In fact, I doubted that right then he could have said diphthong.
“What was the guy’s name at the bar with you?” I asked, nonchalantly I hoped.
“Jim. That’s all I know. Jim.”
“And who was the bartender serving you guys?”
“I don’t know her name. Short black hair, thirtyish, real slender, big rack, cute with knowledgeable eyes. No ring.”
Which gave me the idea that stepping out with Doris might not have been the first time Sam had done this sort of thing. Maybe finding this way to bolster his ego had become a habit. But that’s not what I’d been hired to detect.
I asked him for a detailed description of Doris, but got mostly that she was pretty. He wouldn’t have been much good for a police sketch artist. Wasn’t much help to me, either, but I wasn’t planning to locating her by knowing exactly what she looked like.
“Anything else I should know?” I asked.
He looked up and his eyes were hazy. He shook his head. I nodded and said, “OK, thanks. You’d better have some coffee before you go.” Then I got up, paid Brisco, and left.
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This story is Copyright © 2013 by Cole Parker. The image is Copyright © 2013 by Paco. The story and image cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story. No other rights are granted.
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