A Hardboiled Disaster

ft17_16_jameslee

SPOON’S THE NAME — Nick Spoon. I’m a private eye but don’t ever call me a dick. A guy in my line of business has to have some dignity.

It was one of those days. Outside it was raining again, the kind of rain that gets right into your underwear. I’m not saying things were quiet, but if you held your breath you could hear your dandruff falling. Loopy, my Girl Friday, hadn’t been paid since she was twenty-nine again. All my mail had windows and the cash box hadn’t been used since Christmas. Clients were thick as loan sharks at a charity, and my carpet was worn down to the office below. Another week and I would’ve been working keyholes. I hate talking like this but it goes with the territory.

I lit a cigarette, flipped the match into the wastepaper basket and knocked off the last two fingers of Old Tennis Shoes. I was about to call it a day when she walked in.

Some dame, I’m telling you. Six foot two with an eye patch. A real looker. She had class written all over her. Some joker with a laundry marker, I figured.

“You’re Nick Spoon, aren’t you?” she said huskily. I had her figured for a two-packs-a-day dame from the get-go.

“That’s what it says on the door,” I said.

She turned and looked through the window. I couldn’t figure this dame at all. It had been boarded up since last Christmas. Suddenly, she wheeled around but went too far. I guess it was the eye patch.

“Mr. Spoon,” she gasped. “Where have you gone?”

“I’m right here, sweetheart. Just swing to your left.”

“Oh, Mr. Spoon, you frightened me. I thought I’d come to the wrong place. I’m desperate, you see. I need your help.”

“Who gave you my name, Miss . . . ?”

“Penthouse, Mrs. . . . Please call me Glorious.”

“I’ve never heard it described that way. But okay if you say so. How can I help you, Glorious?”

“It’s my husband, Squire. He’s . . . disappeared.”

Nobody had ever called me Squire. “The name’s Nick, Glorious.”

She seemed confused. Apart from that we had nothing in common. “Let’s start over,” I suggested. “It could help.”

“You’re Nick Spoon, aren’t you?” she said huskily.

I had her figured for a heavy —

“Mrs. Penthouse, do you believe in déjà vu?”

Just then, to make matters more complicated, the Fat Man walked through the door. He could have opened it first. He crossed to my sofa, sat down on himself and overflowed. Where had I seen this card before? I pushed the empty bottle towards him.

“Have a snifter, pal. Make it a double, and quick.”

He laughed. “By Gad, sir! I do like a man with a sense of humour.”

“Get to the case, fella!” I snapped. Something about the Fat Man was getting to me; his aftershave, I decided.

He laughed again. “I also like a man with a mind for business. Who’s the lady?”

“She’s a new client of mine. Her husband’s taken a powder.”

“Disappeared,” Glorious said. “Squire would never take a powder. He’s always been quite fit.”

So that was what the Squire business was about. Things were starting to fall into place.

The Fat Man folded his fingers like a bunch of bruised bananas. “Squire Penthouse III? I met him in Shanghai three years ago. I believe he has something of interest to me.”

Suddenly the picture started to clear. “The Falcon,” I said. “The Maltese Falcon. You’re Caspar Gutman and you’re after the bird!”

The Fat Man gave his short barking laugh. “By Gad! You are a character, sir, and I do admire a man of character.”

I was just starting to figure things out when something hit me from behind. I went down smelling bad aftershave. The floor came up to meet my kisser. It could have tasted better. I blacked out to the sound of some busker on the street below. He was playing “Jingle Bells.” Some timing! It was the first of April.

I woke up in a dumpster somewhere on South Street. There was a lump on my head the size of a grapefruit, and my mouth tasted like a shopping cart handle. It was raining. I climbed out of the dumpster, walked to the street and rode a trolley downtown. A bum clutching a bottle of white port was sleeping next to me. I pushed him straight and got off at my stop. A crowd was milling around my building, which was lit up like a burning building.

“What happened?” I asked a fellow warming his hands.

“Some dumb bunny started a fire in there. They think it’s maybe the dick on the second floor.”

Then I remembered the match I’d thrown into my wastebasket. Some days cost more than they’re worth. I reached for my wallet, but I pinched on fluff. Then I remembered the bum sleeping next to me. Some bum! Some detective! Some fire! I tipped my hat to the guy toasting his palms.

“Some stories ain’t got no way to end,” I said. Then I stared at the flames, Old Tennis Shoes and Loopy on my mind.

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