originally published May 14, 2013
As a one-day deviation from the normal, I’m going to cast off down the waters of fiction for Day #500. Having always been a fan of Raymond Chandler / Mickey Spillaine style hard-boiled detective fiction, that’s the direction I’ll be pointing my shadow-blanketed fingers. Imagine the chiaroscuro lighting, the weather-beaten fedoras and the foreboding shadows of classic film noir against the grey wall as you read this.
Oh, and since I don’t want to leave out my constant companion, I’ll be making liberal use of Wikipedia’s ‘Random Article’ button to move the story forward. Very liberal use.
That way, if this experiment is a disaster, you can blame Wikipedia.
It was half-past far too late when I finally tucked the Kratochwill case into its dusty file folder and dropped it in the cabinet under ‘N’ for ‘Never gonna need this again.’ The Kratochwill case had gotten to me. Mrs. Kratochwill had been murdered while exploring the Sandhohallet Glacier. With my years of experience, I was able to crack the case without leaving the city. Never trust a woman’s “best friend” who can freely quote Eleanor Cameron. Explicit knowledge of Canadian children’s authors is always a tip-off that someone is up to no good.
I sat at my desk, put up my feet and poured myself a bottle of Glenlivet, a fine scotch I hadn’t drank since that night I’d cruised through Montana on Secondary Highway 323, back in the better times. I had a woman back then. A dame with legs up to her gills, and a set of curves that made that Montana highway seem straight as a ruler. She was the abandoned daughter of a fly-fisherman. Gustina Williams was her name. Damn, I miss that skirt.
I was just about to call up my buddy Jimmy Lloyd to see if he wanted to grab some beers and watch the Brooklyn Bums lose again, when she walked in.
She filled out that dress like an obsessive landscaper fills a bagh. That’s a kind of Asian garden – I read about them on a beer coaster once. The garish print on her dress seemed to scream “Rock this bitch!”, while her smoldering eyes clearly held more secrets than the Joseon Dynasty. As her crimson shoes poured her curvaceous form across my dusty wooden floor, my mind played with Occam’s Razor – she looks like trouble, so she’s just got to be trouble.
“Mr. Eppler?” she asked, her voice growling like a well-fed campfire.
“Eppler’s my partner,” I replied, popping a fresh Lucky Strike between my suddenly dry lips. “And I can tell you right now, you don’t want him. You want me.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” she purred, her voice sounding like it had been combed from the depths of Saumarez Reef. “Who are you?”
For some reason I’ll never fathom, I almost spat out the name ‘Svetlana Gladysheva’ like I’d forgotten who I was. “Mike Elmore,” I replied. “Have a seat.”
Never in my life had I been so jealous of a chair. She fixed me with a look that was anything but normal. “I have a problem, Mr. Elmore.”
“Most dames do when they walk through that door.” I lit my smoke with a quick flick of a match, wondering what kind of twisted plot from a Jean Louvet play might have brought this broad into my office.
“I think my husband is trying to murder me.” She spoke in a voice that could have made every palooka in Oyster Bay crawl into a shell.
“That’s a pretty serious charge,” I said, wondering if she was on the level or trying to sell me some foreign direct investment in Romania, as the saying goes.
“Listen, Mr. Elmore. I’m not some moon-faced floozie, fresh out of the Idaho Leadership Academy. I know when somebody’s following me, and I know Andreas, my husband, has motive.” Her eyes were watering like some pasty little kid’s, stuck on the last level of Simon the Sorcerer 5. I almost felt bad for the broad.
“So who’s the other guy?” I asked, taking a long, deep drag on my filterless Lucky as the tears started tumbling down her cheeks like bulbous little micromollusks.
“How… how did you know?”
“Norge? Isn’t there a semi-rigid Italian-built airship by that name?”
“Yes there is.”
“Alright, listen Mrs. Norge. A guy doesn’t have to have read every issue of Partners of Peril to know when some skirt is trying to be cute. A guy’s gotta have a heart of Plumosite to want to pull the plug on a dame like you, or else he’s gotta be jilted. So I ask you again, who’s the other guy? And don’t get all Magdalena Wilhelmine of Württemberg on me here, hiding behind your big nose and blemishes. I want the truth.”
“My… big nose and…”
“It’s a turn of phrase, baby.”
“Okay, okay. His name is Tom. Tom Gorman. But I swear, we broke it off two months ago!”
The poor girl was trembling like German biologist Jörn Vogel accepting his 2010 VAAM research award. I lit another Lucky with the one that was dwindling in my hand and adjusted my genuine Tammar wallaby tie.
“I haven’t even spoken to Tom since then. It was… it was a one-time – ”
“Hey!” I shouted, my patience drying up. “Did you come here to hear a list of Calgary Stampede rodeo champions or do you want some real help? You’re no Altus Theart, gifted South African actor. I can see right through you, lady.”
“Oh God!” she sobbed into her sleeve. The fringes on her dress barely moved, like stoic cornices on a mind-boggling edifice. When it didn’t look like she was gonna break out of it, I snuffed out my Lucky and walked up behind her, putting my hand on her shoulder. “I met him at Nanjing University Literature School,” she said, her voice muffled and distant. “He was guest-lecturing, telling the students about his novel based on the life of Englebert I of Nassau. I was traveling back through Nanjing after having donated some artwork to the Fakir Khana museum in Bhati Gate. It was… it was electric between us.”
“Look,” I said, spinning her around in her chair and kneeling low so I could see into her eyes, which ran deeper than the Gada River. “I need to be able to trust you. I’ll take the case, for the same reason I spent an agonizing summer with a dangerous dame in Sévigny-Waleppe. I’m a fool for a pretty face.”
“Thank you, Mr. Elmore. Thank you so much.”
“My fee is fifty bucks a day plus expenses, and don’t try to negotiate – it’s as unmovable as the tarmac at Borisoglebskoye Airfield.”
“Fifty plus expenses sounds fair.”
And with that I kissed her, and kissed her hard. I was drawn to her like a Tischeria pulvella to a flame. This case would be my undoing – I knew that. But then, I’m a sucker for a bucket of curves in a dangerous dress, like a camshaft falling for the timing chains in a Toyota UR engine. I just couldn’t help myself.