The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes Detecive Fiction
Clean Girl - Part
Speaks worked in the mens department at McCains, a somewhat
elitist fashion hole redeemed by the fact that you didnt
need an appointment to get in. I made a mental note to keep my
receipts. Lloyd Shircore was the kind of guy whose accountants
would insist upon supporting documentation for expense reports.
was easy. Hell, I could have just followed the trail of drool left by
the school boys from other departments sniffing around her in heated
Excuse me, gentlemen, but the young lady has a customer.
I smiled. She blinked.
The three stiffs fractured a bit, backed away in different directions,
and appeared to make little effort to avoid knocking over merchandise.
Welcome to McCains, she beamed. My name is Caroline.
How may I be of service?
I pretended to look around her. Im a man of many faces,
Caroline. Such a man needs an appropriate wardrobe.
Oh, I agree, she replied, even though I had no idea
what Id meant by that. Konkles the name. Dr. Douglas
What can I show you today, Doctor?
If one poured expensive molten chocolate into the finest brandy,
and the mixture could speak, the sound would have tasted just like Carolines
For Mondays, a lambs wool cardigan, perhaps
a cotton shirt, silk tie, something from the Burberry London line, flannel
trousers, a pair of Allen-Edmonds leather shoes. Tuesdays I require
a three-button wool jacket and matching blue trousers, something by
Prada, I would think, perhaps some Berluti shoes. Ah, but Wednesday,
such a problem. What would you recommend?
She motioned me still and circled me. My earlier image of the car dealer
came and went. For a man like you, I think a tan double-breasted
wool-and-cashmere coat. It stays chilly at night here until April, after
all. Then Id slip you into a pair of delicious black corduroy
pants and a natural breathing shirt to show off those pectorals. And
I would sponge your tired feet in a dark set of A. Testoni shoes.
It had taken me half an hour to memorize what I would ask for and she
topped me without a drop of perspiration.
I hope I didnt offend your male colleagues.
Boys, she said, almost shrugging. I keep explaining
to them that Im engagedshe flittered the stone on
her ring finger the way a butterfly fans its wingsbut they
pretend to be deaf.
Whos the lucky fellow? Anyone I know?
She drew back for an instant, then relented. Joel Shircore.
I dont recall him mentioning a Dr. Konkle.
Joel Shircore? The private investor? Thats amazing.
He and I havent been formally introduced, but Im attending
a function this evening at the Zanex Room.
If one compounded the musical drawl of every native West Virginian into
two words, it would have sounded exactly the way Caroline Speaks spoke.
She knew it, too, coughing afterwards, as if the twang had merely been
some phlegm caught in her long neck.
Indeed so. My, look at the time. Send that Wednesday attire
to my office this afternoon, will you? I handed her one of my
old cards and a plastic rectangle to make an imprint for charging.
As I left, the boys resumed their sniffing escapades. It seemed
to me that Ms. Speaks didnt find their behavior all that objectionable.
Three grown men, none of them clumsy in appearance, stood waiting
for me by my Taurus. I thought about catching the security guards
attention, or the valets, thought better of it, and soon enough
regretted that thought.
All three men were in their forties and wore loose-fitting suitsone
brown, one gray, one bluenone of which had been purchased at McCains.
The smallest of the three men would have appeared large leaning against
a mature Saguaro cactus. Brown Suit motioned me into my own car. He
fell in through the passenger side. Gray and Blue sat together in the
back. None of the tires exploded from the weight.
Brown Suit said, Start her up. Keep your hands on the wheel.
Do like we tell you.
I turned the key. The motor purred. You forgot to say: and
nobody gets hurt.
He punched me behind my right ear, probably not as hard as possible,
but hard enough that I still cant remember the name of my high
I didnt forget, he said as we hit the road.
We arrived at the offices of Joel Shircore Investments, Limited, without
The three men delivered me to Joels office. Although they
didnt come in with me, the earth did not tremble, so I knew they
werent far beyond the closed door.
You met with my father early this afternoon, Dr. Konkle,
the young Shircore assured me from within a suit too good for McCains.
His screamed Rodeo Drive. You used to earn your living as a psychologist,
but the phone book has far better ones in it than you, some of whom
still hold a license in this state. Your gambling proclivities are too
insignificant to fall under my fathers gaze. The only logical
conclusion is that he employed you as a private investigator. I want
to know why.
Joel gripped the lip of his office desk as if he expected his
skinny frame could actually shatter it.
Youre very well informed.
Answer my question, wont you, Dr. Konkle?
Why not ask your father?
The young guy possessed his fathers knack for facial expressions.
Last chance, Doctor. Next time I ask, you can answer to the men
who brought you here.
Let me make a suggestion. Why dont we ring up your
dad on your speaker phone there? You can hear the entire conversation.
Ill tell him I screwed up and youre onto our meeting. If
he spills the beans, you get your answer.
He lessened his grip on the desk. Ive learned to sweat on
the inside and I was set to overflow.
My father has been apprehended. One of his assistants murdered
in the process.
You notify the police? This cant have happened more
than two hours ago.
It happened, he said with a sigh, While you
were at McCains. Another matter well discuss later. Perhaps.
You said apprehended. How do you mean?
He slid down the front of his desk, leaned against it and sat
on the floor. Did I? Kidnapped is a better word. No ransom, of
course, but these werent the police. Not even in this town. Now,
will you please answer my question?
Your father employed me to do research on your fiancée.
Joel tipped his head forward and brought it up with a snap. And
what have you learned?
I patted myself down for a cigarette and came up empty. Not
much. If I had to guess, which it looks as if I do, Id say your
dads just being overly protective.
The young man glared and smiled at the same time, a trick I for
one have never mastered. Youre quite mistaken, he
said. For instance, Ill wager you assumed Ive helped
finance her lifestyle? Well, she wont take my help and lives as
if she doesnt need it. Her parents cant afford to help her.
Shes an hourly employee at McCains. Very hourly.
He shook his head. Ill tell you what I suspect, Konkle.
I suspect she could tell us quite a lot about fathersdisappearance.
It makes sense, doesnt it?
It didnt to me, but I nodded. Tentatively, lets assume
youre right. My advice is still to call the police. You cant
sit on Leftys murder forever.
I received the glare and smile combo again. Of course I
can. My business interests differ from fathers more in appearance
than in reality. I doubt the corpus delecti will surface any time soon.
I really wanted that cigarette. I suspected where the conversation
was headed. Joel didnt keep me waiting long.
You will investigate fathers disappearance.
I spoke with all the candor I could muster. You have a habit of
putting me in situations where I have to refuse you. I dont like
refusing a man in your position.
My three associates will provide you with all the assistance
you need. What was father paying you?
He mentioned six thousand.
Joel stood and pressed a button on his phone. Dusty! Bring
ten K from petty cash. Sign the receipt on my behalf. He dropped
back to the floor. The advantage, Konkle, of paying in advance
is that the other person owes you.
I picked Tamla up at 8:30 sharp. She looked so good it bothered
me a little. His hair was curled and the color of pineapple. It didnt
just catch the light; it waved it in. But as she had pointed out, she
worked for me. We arrived at the Zanex Room at 9:05 and it cost me twenty
bucks just to get a guy to think about parking the Taurus.
I asked Tamla if shed rather stick together or mingle. She
looked around at the sweep of one million lights refracted in gold and
surprised me by taking my arm. You never knew about some people.
Someone had laid out the other guests like bumpers on a pinball
machine. We manage to avoid tilting and made our way to the bar. Tamla
called for a cosmopolitan. I stayed with gin and tonic. The bartender
inhaled as if he were about to offer me a quote on the drinks when something
behind me caught his eye and he went back to cleaning the bar with a
Tamla tugged at my elbow. We turned around just in time to catch
the cool breeze of Caroline Speaks.
I thought of a song lyric Id not heard in decades. It went: And
she asks how are you? as she offers them a drink. The countess of the
social grace who never seems to blink. And she promises to talk to you
if you promise not to think. I mopped the grin from my face and
Dr. Konkle! Youre wearing the clothes I sent over.
And it isnt even Wednesday! Wont you introduce me to your
I introduced them.
Caroline lacked a male entourage this evening. Id no more than
filed that observation for later review than I noticed that the Zanex
Room, at least for this evening, was a couples venue. As far as
I could see, Caroline was the only one in the room without a companion.
She may have surmised my thoughts.
Joel will be here any moment. It is the funniest thing.
After I selected your wardrobe this afternoon She turned
to Tamla. Im sorry, but youll have to admit theres
nothing more exciting than dressing a handsome man?
Secretary didnt flinch. I dress all my handsome men.
Carolines forehead crinkled at that. Yes, well, I was going
to say, after you left the store today, I suddenly remembered who you
are. Didnt you write a book called Intuition and Other Parlor
Tricks? I loved that book. Was that you?
I motioned a refill from the bar. In my more self-important
days. Yes, I wrote it.
For reasons unexplained, that courageous admission attracted some
small attention. Tamla and I began growing onlookers from both arms.
Within a few minutes, Tamla was telling the story to anyone who
would listen and to several who probably preferred not to hear. Yes,
he can talk to you for just a few minutes and tell you things about
yourselfnot everything, I mean, hes no magicianthat
would surprise you.
This intrigued Caroline. What can you tell about me?
I was ready for that one. Nothing youd want repeated
in here, I said around my lime.
Are you having a good time, dear?
Joel stepped up from behind us and clasped Carolines hand
in his own.
I introduced Tamla and she informed Mr. Shircore that she was
indeed pleased to make his acquaintance.
Joel suggested that he and I should speak privately. I left Tamla
in Carolines care, or perhaps the other way around.
I dont suppose you have any news for me?
I shrugged. A bit. You wont like most of it.
I dont care for sugarcoating. Or for stalling.
Your fathers dead.
That stopped him. I didnt care for the shrimpy big shot
wannabe, but I hadnt wanted to tell him that. I plunged ahead.
You were right about him being kidnapped. They killed Lefty first,
The cigarette wouldnt wait this time. Look, I know
your father had Caroline checked out before he contacted me. She looked
swell on paper, but there was something about her he didnt like.
He just couldnt figure out what it was.
And you could?
I blew out a cloud that would have choked Boston. She was
blackmailing your father, except he didnt know she was the one
doing it. Not because he was stupid, but because she was good. Youre
smart. You wouldnt talk your dads business around her. But
face it, she could find out what she wanted through people near you,
or near your father.
Lefty! That squirrel-headed
It makes sense. Why else kill the little guy? They couldve
gotten to the old man without offing anyone else. But Lefty was a loose
Joel watched me smoke for a moment. Then he said, You cant
prove any of this, can you?
I think I can. Well know pretty soon. But think about
it. The old man starts checking her out, she finds out about that from
Lefty, and worries your dad will find out its her whos blackmailing
Joel watched me savor my cigarette.
I decided to put your boys to work, since you offered.
Joel took a drag and handed the stick back to me.
The one in the brown suit, the one you call Arthur? Hes
not that dumb. We got to talking about Carolines dad.
The coal miner? What about him?
I offered him another hit but he wasnt interested. All he wanted
now was to hear my story. I didnt keep him waiting. Arthur
used to work for your father. And when I suggested that ole Artie check
out your bride-to-bes family history, he remarks that your pop
used to make business loans to the West Virginia mine owners. Never
had much trouble getting paid back. But just about nine years ago, this
one guy had his visible assets frozen during a routine government inquiry.
So he wouldnt pay. Or couldnt. Then your father applies
pressure. When that didnt work, the mine owner found himself dead.
His name was Elmore Gates, the man your intended called daddy. Step-daddy,
it turns out. Speaks is the mothers name.
I ground out my cigarette on the shiny hardwood floor. Joel crossed
and uncrossed his arms. Caroline put father together in this,
came out here to extort that information without revealing her connection.
Blackmail was just a means. Revenge was her motive.
Knowing she was on borrowed time, she had father and Lefty
And lives happily ever after. Pretty neat.
Joel found a place for his hands. They parked on his hips. You
will repeat this in Carolines presence.
I said Id rather not. He said he didnt care.
The five of usJoel, Caroline, Arthur, Tamla and myselfmet
in a private room upstairs. You could hardly hear the clinking and laughter
from beneath us. I repeated the story. Tamla fidgeted. Arthur held a
canary in his belly, trying to look dutiful and grim while remaining
very pleased with himself. Joel eyed Caroline. Caroline stared at me.
When I finished, she commented, That is an incredible story.
Joels bony frame vibrated. How much of it does he
Want me to handle that one, honey?
I knew who had spoken before I saw her holding the Colt single-action
on us. I knew because Id heard a similar drawl earlier in the
Mrs. Speaks, I declared. I didnt see your
name on the guest list.
She tapped a glossy fingernail against her gun. I brought
an invitation, she said.
Loretta Speaks didnt conform to my idea of a seamstress. Someone
had poured her into a tight red dress. She wore her hair just a bit
shorter and just a bit lighter than her daughters. Otherwise she
stood out as a tall drink of water from the same gene pool as Caroline.
She also stood out as the only one in the room holding a firearm. Id
found out earlier that Arthur ported a shoulder holster, but if he planned
on drawing, hed waited too long.
Tarnished, not ruined, Mrs. Speaks observed. Our plans,
I mean. Caroline wont be able to marry the runt because now he
knows what were up to, and besides, hell be dead. But we
squeezed enough out of the old guy to get us into a new set up. Honey,
you did real fine. Dont you worry.
Caroline sashayed over to stand by her mother. She turned and
looked back at the rest of us as if someone had passed wind and tried
to blame it on her.
Joel stood. I didnt thank that was such a hot idea. He had his
back to me, and I could see the skin along his neckline glow. I guess
hed had enough.
He took three steps forward. Dont point that gun at
me, you hillbilly bitch.
Mrs. Speaks didnt let him take a fourth step.
The guns muzzle roared, a spark lit up the barrel, and Joel flopped
backwards, landed, and was still. He hadnt hit the ground before
Arthur dragged a Mag from beneath his brown jacket. With her gun at
waste level, Loretta Speaks turned a few degrees, just before the top
of her head exploded from Arthurs blast. Her gun discharged all
the same, hitting the big man between his shoulder and chest.
I wished someone would scream. I couldnt have been the only one
fighting the impulse.
Joel was too motionless to be anything but dead. Loretta wasnt
gong to target shoot tin cans off fence posts anymore, either. Arthur
looked to be in bad shape. His gun had dropped between his feet and
Caroline had caught her mothers Colt before it even had a chance
to touch the carpet. She pointed that gun at me.
Shame to mess up such nice clothes, Caroline said,
her natural twang accented with a dash of hysteria. But I got
to shoot you all and be on my way.
My body uncurled until I was standing up. I said, Do you mind
if I check to make sure Joels not alive?
She twitched the Colt in his direction and I inched my way over
to his breathless body. I placed my thumb and fingers along his neck.
There was never going to be a pulse there again. So I lied.
Hes tougher than he looks, was all I had a chance
to say before she shot him again.
Those two seconds was all the time Tamla needed to grab Arthurs
Magnum, pull back the hammer, and squeeze the trigger. Unfortunately,
she omitted aiming from her equation. She did buy me enough distraction
to grab the .38 from Joels jacket and fire one round through Carolines
Caroline Speaks didnt shoot anyone else that night. They DOAd
her upon arrival at Good Samaritan.
The homicide detectives had a long night. From their point of view it
was bad enough they had to keep all the non-witnesses downstairs from
slipping away. Worse yet for them they had to wrestle with the Organized
Crime Bureau to maintain jurisdiction over the case. Compared to that,
accepting our version of events must have been easy.
After checking with the hospital and learning that Arthur would
live to sucker-punch another day, I drove Tamla to her apartment. She
still looked good, especially having saved my life. Before she touched
the door handle, I tapped her wrist and kissed her quick on the cheek.
Its a little after five. Take today off.
She chuckled and shook just a bit. Ill be in by nine,
she said. She surprised me with a return peck on the cheek. Apparently
I need to protect you, she said on her way out of the car. I watched
her climb the stairs to her apartment, slip a key into the lock, step
inside and close the door.
You never knew about some people.
I drove on home with my windows down, relishing the cool early
© Phil Mershon December 2004
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