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:Dreamscapes: A Private Eye moment

Wild, Delicious and Dead
  Phillip Mershon

 “In polite society,” I said, spilling ashes on the carpet, “You offer your guests a chair, possibly even a drink...

I was walking over to pay the Hawaiian Shaved-Ice man the hundred I owed him for the quinnella when a kid rolled up on his skateboard and jabbed a .22 into my ribs. Rick, the ice man, ran a neat little booking agency, taking bets on Turf Paradise races. If you knew how to approach him, you could bet quins, tris, exactas, or daily doubles all day long. For an extra five bucks, he even had a portable closed circuit monitor where you could watch your horses throw their jockeys. I didn’t suppose the kid would be amused by any of this.
 “Going for a walk,” he said, flipping the board off his foot and catching it under one arm. He was the type of cute little pudding head you wanted to strangle just for looking at you. He used his gun to motion ahead and to the left. I walked ahead and to the left. Rick would have to wait. After all, he’d only spend the money on something he liked.
 “You want to tell me where we’re going?”
 The kid spat from the corner of his mouth. “Going to your funeral, you don’t shut up.”
 It made me happy that old gangster movies had an audience with the young.
 We passed an old guy with long gray hair, a brown parka, and striped shorts about half as thick as a sheet of notebook paper. He sat at a bus stop, his legs crossed in a figure two, the top one bouncing with enthusiasm, as if it were happy to have a purpose.
 Just beyond the bus stop stood the Madama Hotel, a great place to send out of town guests if you never wanted to see them again.
 “Walk inside and wait,” the kid said. I expected him to spit again, but he disappointed me. He didn’t follow me inside.
The lobby was a humble affair, with a rainbow collection of colored chairs and sofas, the nicest of which had been cleaned around the time of Kennedy’s inauguration.
 A man popped up from behind the front desk. “Help you?” he asked, if such can be considered a question.
 Ignoring the twenty-odd 'No Smoking' signs plastered on the walls, I popped one from my pack and met the man across the desk. “Got a light?”
 He brought a Bic up from his pocket and made it flame. “You Konkle?”
 I inhaled and smiled. “Somebody here sent a kid for me. Saved me from paying my bookie. Who do I thank?”
 The desk man rang a bell I hadn’t even noticed.
 An old man not quite large enough to be a dwarf tugged on my jacket. “This way, if you please?”
 I tipped my smoke at the desk man, spun on my heels with what I hoped was a certain nonchalance, and followed the short guy across the lobby into an office with the word “Private” tattooed on the door. My escort waited just inside. I approached the man behind an old cherry wood desk. I recognized him at once.
 “You Konkle?” he asked. In only two words, he managed to convey half a dozen accents, all of them affectations.
 “My friends call me Dr. Konkle,” I said, looking around for an ashtray. The gray on the end of my smoke was arcing like a condemned bridge. “And you are Lloyd Shircore. To what to I owe the honor?”
 Shircore waved off my question as if it weren’t in a dialect of his liking. “Lefty, get Dr. Konkle an ashtray.”
 “Lefty?” I chuckled. “Is it still World War I and somebody forgot to tell me?”
 Again I received the dismissive wave. Shircore said, “His grandfather was a Bolshevik. What can I tell you?”
 Lefty heaved over an ashtray stand which I chose to ignore. “You can tell me what I’m doing here.”
 Shircore frowned, not suddenly, but with a gradation that suggested such an expression was right at home on his mouth. “I got a friend named Bobak. Cecil Bobak. He says I ever need a favor, I should get in touch with you.”
 “In polite society,” I said, spilling ashes on the carpet, “You offer your guests a chair, possibly even a drink. And you make appointments over the phone. Not through some kid with a cap gun.”
 I didn’t notice Lefty move up behind me, but I found out he was there. As fast as I felt something brush against my pant leg, a tiny fist grabbed me by the scrotum and squeezed.
 Some pains are so precise and intense, they can change the way you see the world. Sitting across the desk, the frowning Lloyd Shircore changed from cream white to lavender to orange to green and back to his original color, or at least that’s how it seemed with every internal organ in my body screaming for relief.
 “You can let go now, Lefty,” Shircore said after half a minute or so. The midget dropped his hand and I hit the carpet hard and did not care at all. “And get our guest a chair and a drink. He looks like a gin and tonic man to me.”
 I sucked down the gin and tonic, chewed up the lime and asked for a refill. Lefty obliged. And the third one tasted every bit as good.
 “You see, Konkle,” Shircore explained. “There’s this girl I want you to meet. She’s engaged to my boy. Her name’s Caroline Speaks. I don’t like her. I had her checked out. She comes up so clean she could be a dish of soap. So what’s she want with Joel?”
 My respiration no longer sounded like I was in mid-marathon. “Joel is your son? Have you talked to him about your concerns?”
 The frown waltzed along his face for a moment and then resumed its stationary pose. “Dr. Konkle, you know who I am, so you know that the people in this town often think of me as a criminal. Joel is no different from them. Oh, when he totals his Audi and needs a replacement, then it doesn’t matter how I earn my money. But if he’s not needing something, well, I’m just a corrupt father messing in his kid’s affairs. Now here’s the point. Cecil Bobak says you helped him in something like this. I want the same service. Hey, the girl checks out, I’m a happy guy in love with the world. She turns out to be a shady Sadie, you save my boy a lot of grief. But either way, Joel knows nothing about this.”
Nobody seemed to care that I wanted a refill.  I said, “Look, Mr. Shircore, I’m a retired psychologist.”
 “You’re thirty-seven and you were fired.”
 “I like to earn my money playing drums in a little jazz band down at the Cajun House. We play weekends. You should catch our act.”
 “You’ve done P.I. work off and on for the last three years. Your band stinks, although I hear you personally aren’t that bad. The deal is you bring me proof she’s clear, she’s dirty, I stay happy and you get six grand. Now get out of here, both of you. I need a nap.”
Cecil Bobak owed me. Not only had his check bounced, but my crushed vitals had to be considered. Back in the office, with a pillow on my chair and feet up on my desk, I used my phone to confuse his secretary into putting me through to him on the golf course at the Country Club. I was glad he still had money for greens fees.
 After some polite swearing and protestations about his ignorance of the workings of financial institutions, he finally shut up long enough for me to ask him to arrange for me to attend a party where both Caroline Speaks and Joel Shircore would be holding court. My request was met with some swearing that was not at all polite. After he wore himself out, he said he’d call me back in a few minutes and hung up.
I used the time to look over the file Lefty had given me. Three credit bureau reports all showed essentially the same things: Caroline Speaks, age twenty-seven, no aliases, lived in the same Scottsdale apartment for the last eight years, and liked to shop at high-end department stores. She still had plenty of room to grow on her indebtedness. She rarely missed a payment. The Volvo she drove was hers free and clear.
 Her motor vehicle report was a study in boredom. No tickets, no violations. Her Criminal Investigations Record was clear. I could see why the old man was troubled. Even with all his lawyers, guns and money, he didn’t squeak this clean. For that matter, neither did I.
 Her parents were from West Virginia. Father a coal miner, deceased. Mother a seamstress. No siblings. Caroline moved to Scottsdale right out of high school. Got a job working retail. Still with it after eight years.
 Her photograph worried me more than anything. Even in back and white, Caroline Speaks wore her beauty the way a used car salesman wears jewelry. She had looks to spare, knew she had them, and knew that you knew. The photo caught her in half profile, her long dark hair draped over one eye as the other looked out at the camera with all the hunger a coke head brings to flake on a mirror. “I’m a monster with teeth,” her closed lips seemed to say. “But you won’t mind dying.”
The phone interrupted my highly unprofessional speculations.
 Cecil Bobak didn’t curse this time. After giving me the when—tonight after nine—and the where—the Zanex Room—he told me we were even and hung up. I had Tamla, my secretary, order a dozen roses from him to his wife. “Have the card read: To Anne, with all my love.”
 Tamla made a face I didn’t like. “I think his wife’s name is Beatrice,” she said.
 I told her she was absolutely correct, to send them out as I had directed, and grabbed my hat. “By the way, I need you to go out with me tonight.”
 She pushed back the baseball cap she always wore when she sat at her computer. “Dr. Konkle, we have discussed this before. I work for you.”
 “It’ll be work. Tamla, I’m on the job, as we speak.”
 “Oh.” One syllable, and she filled it with as much contemplation as a room full of psychics. “Then I’d be on the job, too. With overtime pay.”
 “I’ll pick you up at 8:30. We’re going to the Zanex Room, so dress appropriately.”
 “I always do,” she said, as unruffled as her T-shirt and blue jeans. “By the way, Rick called. He wants his hundred.”
 “Thanks,” I said. “But right now I have some shopping to do.”

PART TWO of The Squeaky Clean Girl here
© Phil Mershon December 2004

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