Inside Voice (flash)

I’m a private detective, and I’d like to say I’m pretty good at it.  I’d really like that.  I was a pretty good cop, for the most part, even if I had trouble looking the wrong way at the right time and didn’t have the sense to just take the money to do it.  Virtue is its own reward, they say; you sure can’t put it in the bank.

I sit in my office on the third floor, listening to the pigeons arguing over hat-soiling techniques so loudly they almost drown out the constant rumble of city traffic.    I stare at my desk, waiting for the magic minute when the sun peeks between the two brownstones across the way to print my name in shadows on my stained desk blotter.  Yeah, once I had enough money to get my name painted on the window, and once I was enough of a sap to think someone walking by would look up and think that today was the day he needed to hire a flatfoot.

I could have bought plenty of whisky with what that sign cost, and not had one less client.  In fact, I decide that a little whisky will make the day more bearable, a decision I come to pretty much every day about this time.  I’m no lush, but I keep up my semi-pro status on the drinking.  It’s important to have a hobby you really enjoy, after all, especially in a business like mine.  All this waiting around to peek through hotel windows would be unbearable, otherwise.

I’m just finishing my third drink, and revelling with dizzy glee at the sight of my own name, when I hear the door open.  I look up, and there’s a woman in the door.  I know, in the movies a guy like me would call her “a dame” or “a skirt,” but I’m not in the movies and I was brought up right.  But I’m still a guy, so I don’t mind that she’s built like an athlete, that she’s wearing a cashmere sweater and tight skirt, and that there’s an avalanche of auburn curls cascading down her head to frame sea-green eyes, a sharp little nose, and a pair of red lips that could only be improved by smiling.

She isn’t smiling, though.  She looks like she smelled something bad, which is entirely possible since the new tenants moved in right under me.  God knows what Universal Novelty Export gets up to, because some days there’s a waft like a fish cannery drifting up and sometimes it’s more of an industrial solvent reek.  I hadn’t noticed anything today, but that might just mean my own nose has given up.

Now, I think, this is where I always get into trouble with the clients.  She said something as she took a step into my office, and I missed it.  I gesture to the oak chair I have for clients, the one with a nice corduroy cushion on it.  The chair came with the office, but I had the bright idea of buying a cushion to make it comfortable.  A couple of clients have actually commented on it.  This woman, though, doesn’t seem to be interested in it.  She just stands there, halfway between the door and the desk, looking angry.

“Hey, now,” I say, trying to work out what she’d said right at the first, “no need to get worked up.  Why don’t you sit down and we can discuss your problem.  I can even offer a refreshment if you like.”  I gesture at the bottle, which is only three-quarters empty; not bad for one I got the day before last.

“You big ape,” she says, and there’s venom on those gorgeous lips from the sound of it.  She starts to say something else, but I’ve already lost track of her.  It’s one of the problems that a lot of us detectives run up against, and there’s no March of Dimes to help us out.  The damn obligatory internal monologue.  It’s not like I need to narrate what’s happening to me, but after a few years in the racket, it just won’t stop.

There.  I was so busy thinking about the commentary, I didn’t even see where she got that gun from.  A .45 Auto is a lot of gun for a woman, but she’s holding it steady on me, the same stance as the drill sergeant taught us at Fort Drum, and I guess maybe she is an athlete with that kind of arm strength.

Maybe if I would shut up for two seconds altogether, I could find out what her beef with me is.  She’s been talking the whole time, hell, yelling at me, and I don’t have a goddam clue even who she is.  I think of my own pistol, a nice Smith and Wesson .38 that I take good care of, and cast a glance at the coat-rack in the corner where it hangs in the holster I don’t bother to put on unless I’m on a case, just under the brown fedora that’s seen better days.

Jesus, now there’s tears running down her face, and those wonderful lips have gone thin.  No more yelling now, just quiet deliberate words.  I have no doubt at all she’s going to shoot me any moment, and I figure the only chance I have it to toss the whisky bottle at her head and charge right after it.

The .45 barks, the report crashing into my ears but not drowning out my own running commentary.  The bullet explodes the bottle, showering me with rot-gut, shards of glass, and splinters of desk-top.

Dear God… am I saying all this crap out loud?

She points the gun right at my forehead.  There is a little quiver in the muzzle, but not enough for her to miss me at this range.  I doubt I’ll even hear the next shot when it

“Inner Voice” ©2016 Dirck de Lint

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