With apologies to Raymond Chandler…..
Business was slow. Slower than the LAA Portal when you need to process a CRM 14, whatever that means. But for me it meant no new cases to investigate, no philandering husbands to catch at it and no dough coming through the the bank accounts. I needed a change in fortune. I had rent to pay at the end of the month and the bank were threatening to foreclose on me.
Let me introduce myself. I am Thomas Dix, Private Invesitgator. There, you can see me, feet up on my desk, watching Harriet the office cat give herself the once over, licking herself clean like a hitman removing his prints from the smoking gun. But that’s the only action there was in the office , no clients, no phonecalls, no new files, no old files, just me and the cat, just Tom Dix and Harry.
My office is on a typical street in Midtown. First floor above one of those coffee and deli places that are on every street corner. A real mom and pop outfit. The two of them had been doling out food to the heaving masses ever since they came here from Poland. Mr and Mrs Gregowicz, although that wasn’t a catchy name for a business. And my stomach gurgled like a slow draining bath as I caught a sniff of the signature dish wafting up the stairs. It was hard to beat one of the steak slices from Greg’s.
Right at that moment I heard the outer office door go. Then silence. The type of silence that tells you something bad is about to walk into your life. The sort of silence that fills the room in the moment before the Doc tells you how long you got left to live.
“Marcie!?!” I hollered, forgetting that I had to let the receptionist go when business got scarce.
I dropped my feet from the desk as I heard a hand turn the handle on the door to my office. I thought I could smell fear in the air, then saw Harriet shoot me a guilty look before slinking off and I realised that wasn’t fear I could smell…..there was a reason Marcie called the cat “Dirty Harry”.
The door opened and in walked a woman. A woman who had legs all the way up to her ears, which briefly made me wonder where all her internal organs were at. She flashed me a smile that told me more about cosmetic dentistry than nature.
“Tom Dix?” she asked, not waiting for an answer, “my name is Katie Rocquet. I’m a lawyer”… (that explained the pantsuit, I thought to myself)…”and I have case for you, if it is something you are interested in….”
I was interested the moment she said she had a case. A case meant money and I found money more interesting than Lord Harley’s ribbon collection.
So Miss Rocquet explained that she wanted me to track something down for her. I made notes as she told me that some papers had gone missing. Her firm had been due to receive them last month from the prosecutor’s office but had never turned up. She had done what she could but couldn’t get her hands on them. And now she wanted my help.
And help I could.
Before the scent of her perfume had left my office I had my hat and my coat on and I was out of the door. This was going to be easy. You see, she had been able to give me the name of one of the police officers involved and I knew him back from my days on the job, before I left the force.
As I stepped onto the street I pulled the collar of my mac up to my ears, the weather having turned colder than the inside of Mad Freddies’s heart. Mad Freddie had been the case that led me to leave behind my badge and become the freelancer I am now. Not many survived Mad Freddie, but that’s a different story.
Right now I just needed to head down to the Precinct, have a word with my old buddy Kowalski and send Miss Rocquet the bill for my services. He was the officer in charge of the case. He would just give me a copy of the file and I could say “case closed” faster than well behaved boys and girls are made Judges.
Of course, when I had been in the force I wasn’t based at this Precinct. We had a proper police station, not a portacabin in a shopping centre. But, you know, times change and austerity was what ran the show now.
Unfortunately austerity turned out to be a cheap son of a bitch because when I walked up the ramp to the prefab police station and put my hand on the door handle I found it locked. I swore under my breath and looked around for some clue as to what to do next.
I am not a religious man but I don’t mind telling you that I asked the big fella for some help right then. I needed a dead end this early in the case like South Korea needed a nuclear armed meglomaniac neighbour.
“Just give me a sign” was my whispered prayer.
And there it was, next to the door. A sign. An actual sign
“This police station is open on the third Wednesday of every month (except April, May, July and February and/or October should it be a leap year and any Wednesday which happens to be a national holiday. Anywhere.) between the hours of 2.45 and 3.45 am/pm (delete as appropriate) and subject to daylight saving and weather permitting. In the unlikely event that you need our assistance outside of these hours, please lift the handset next to this sign and tell the operator the nature of your emergency, the number of this lift and its approximate location. An engineer will be with you shortly.”
And next to the sign was a yellow phone. The old kind of phone. Like they had in the movies. Like the Bat-phone. But yellow. I picked up the handset.
“Hello,” said a voice at the other end “this is the generic call handling centre, please state the nature of your enquiry and whether you require the police, ambulance, coast guard, lift engineer, gas engineer, nuclear fission engineer, duty solicitor or whether you want to register on the phone for our range of online services?”
“Look pal,” I said, “I’m ex-job and just need to speak to my old buddy Kowalski, now be a stand up kind of guy and put me through to him why dontcha?”
“How do I know that?” the voice at the other end of the line said.
I screwed my face up. This was not turning out to be as easy as I thought it would.
“Just get me Kowalski and he’ll vouch for me,” I said, struggling to keep my voice the right side of gruff.
“But I don’t know that he will, and then what?” the anonymous voice continued to argue, “I mean you could be any old Tom, Dick or……”
“Don’t even go there,” I snapped and something in my voice seemed to have the desired effect.
“Okay, okay. I’ll just see if I can put you through,” the guy on the other end said before my ear was filled with the relentless noisy silence of an unused phone line. After what seemed like an eternity he spoke again.
“No sorry, you can’t speak to him today.”
“Why not?” I asked, my voice as tight as a Determining Officer looking at a special prep claim.
“He’s on leave today,” came my answer.
“If I leave you my number, can you get him to give me a call tomorrow? Please.” I asked, politely. Sometimes it was nice to be nice, sometimes you had to be nice.
“No” came the answer. He was about as helpful as a rollerskate on a frozen lake.
“Oh for crying out loud, man,” I hollered into the handset, “stop having a stick up your ass and help me out here before I reach down this phone and grab you by the larynx.”
I had gone from good cop to bad cop in the beat of a butterfly’s heart. It was good to be back.
“There’s no need to be like that, I can’t ask him to call you tomorrow because tomorrow he’s on a rest day,” the voice sounded a little wounded.
Time for me to dial it back a little.
“Sorry buddy, it is just kind of important I speak to him. Is a rest day different to leave?” I asked. Things had changed in even the short time since I had become just a citizen.
“Yes. It is. But either way, he won’t be ringing you.”
I could tell by the sound of his voice that my window of cooperation was rapidly closing.
“Ok, ok. How about you do me a massive favour and just ask my friend and yours, Kowalski, to give me a call the day after his rest day. I mean, we are all on the same team here, you know what I mean?”
This case had a definite time limit. And I could hear the clock ticking.
“No can do,” his voice seemed tinged with pleasure, “because after his rest day he is on a course. And after the course he is on nights. And then rest days. And, well, the next time Officer Kowalski is available to respond to my message to give you a call will be three weeks this Friday. Subject to operational matters.”
“Look you jobsworth, you snivelling little…..” And I did not get to speak my mind as at that exact moment I heard the unmistakable electronic click that was as fatal for a telephone conversation as the guillotine was for a French aristocrat. He hung up on me.
And this is where I began to wish I had not taken the job. You see there was a deadline. Miss Rocquet had been vague about the details. But the missing papers had to be with her in time for something she only referred to as the PTPH. I did not know much about this so-called PTPH. But I did know that it had something to do with Mad Freddie. And the wrong side of Mad Freddie is a painful place to be.
I had to solve this case. I had to get those papers. I pulled my fedora down to shield my eyes from the wind and the rain. This had just gotten serious. Time for me to make like one of those security arches at the airport and detect……
TO BE CONTINUED