The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes: A Private Eye
Delicious and Dead
polite society, I said, spilling ashes on the carpet, You
offer your guests a chair, possibly even a drink...
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 didnt 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, hed only spend the money on
something he liked.
You want to tell me where were going?
The kid spat from the corner of his mouth. Going to your
funeral, you dont shut up.
It made me happy that old gangster movies had an audience with
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 didnt 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 Kennedys 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
He brought a Bic up from his pocket and made it flame. You
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 hadnt 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 werent 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 Im 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 didnt 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 thats 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. Theres
this girl I want you to meet. Shes engaged to my boy. Her names
Caroline Speaks. I dont like her. I had her checked out. She comes
up so clean she could be a dish of soap. So whats she want with
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 doesnt matter how I earn my money. But if hes not
needing something, well, Im just a corrupt father messing in his
kids affairs. Now heres the point. Cecil Bobak says you
helped him in something like this. I want the same service. Hey, the
girl checks out, Im 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, Im a retired psychologist.
Youre 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.
Youve done P.I. work off and on for the last three
years. Your band stinks, although I hear you personally arent
that bad. The deal is you bring me proof shes clear, shes
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 hed 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 didnt 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
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. Im a monster with
teeth, her closed lips seemed to say. But you wont
The phone interrupted my highly unprofessional speculations.
Cecil Bobak didnt curse this time. After giving me the whentonight
after nineand the wherethe Zanex Roomhe 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
Tamla made a face I didnt like. I think his wifes
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.
Itll be work. Tamla, Im on the job, as we speak.
Oh. One syllable, and she filled it with as much contemplation
as a room full of psychics. Then Id be on the job, too.
With overtime pay.
Ill pick you up at 8:30. Were 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
PART TWO of
The Squeaky Clean Girl here
© Phil Mershon December 2004
all rights reserved