I’m driving a loaner buggy. It steers me right behind the eight-ball. Parking that piece of metal scrap is a lesson no dick should have to learn. I’d rather dock a boat with an anchor stuck on the bottom of the deep blue sea. Instead, I squeeze the metal box between two mammoth trucks, the kind of trucks no self-respecting dinosaur should have to drive. I march into my office gulping air. I should lose a little weight, see. But carrying extra baggage has saved my tookus plenty of times. If I have a few pounds in all the wrong places, so what. They’re my pounds, see. I’ll shoot ‘em off when I’m good and ready, see. The last man to make a comment about my ‘size’ ended up stuck in an alley caught between a trash can and the wall of a gin joint. But I left him alive. Barely.As soon as I enter my inner sanctorum, I want to turn around and leave. Too bad Vera is on temporary leave of absence. She could have warned me.
The handsome cluck sitting in one of my rummage sale chairs is a walking poster boy for the Red Cross: left arm in a sling, left eye covered by a black patch, left foot in a boot, and a white bandage the size of a cumber-bum wrapped around short platinum hair, the kind of hair a bottle of peroxide takes a dump on. A crutch lays on the floor next to his chair. A client like this spells big trouble; trouble that says I’d rather bag’ im and tag’ im. I have to think fast. Do I even want to even listen to the jasper? Yeah. I could always use an extra 10 grand or two. But I’ll play hard to get. You’d be surprised how often that works. With men, that is.
“Look Tom, Dick, and Harry, my name is Mamie Barlowe. I left the door open for a reason. You’re wearing a sob story and I’m not crying.” I take a seat in my leather chair. The walking stiff looks at me with a right eye that grows the size of a cannonball. I place my heels on the desk, cross my ankles, and lean back. That’s so the stiff thinks I’m relaxed. I’m not.
He clears a throat that rattles like a bad engine. “Ms. Barlowe? My name is Bertie Clumper. I’m in a real jam. You’ve just got to help me out.”
I stare at him like he just tied my mother to the railroad tracks. The man‘s got movie star looks, though, you know the kind, where women claw tuxedo pants to shreds hoping for a spin around the block. Instead they wind up tookus on the ground waving a white flag. I end up on the ground for three reasons: a hit to the blindside, a goofy gorilla tearing me apart like a bad check, and my personal favorite, a mug with movie star looks knocking me flat. But I don’t wave a white flag, see. I wave a do-not-disturb flag. “Ok, here’s the deal, Bertie. I talked to your wife. I wish I hadn’t. Don’t make me wish I hadn’t with you.”
The man’s mouth works like a hairpin opening a lock. Finally, he finds his voice. I coulda told him where it was. In fact, I can tell him where it’ll be in about two seconds. But that would require lifting my heels off the desk.
“Ms. Barlowe, please, just hear me out. Roxy is trying to kill me.” He looks down at his left leg, then over at his sling. He adjusts his eye patch with a hand that trembles like a dipsomaniac pointing a gun at me. The man’s a pity pooper. I’d like to flush him down the toilet. But I refrain.
“Look,” and he whines worse than a model plane heading for a clothesline, “I know she hired you to find me. But you can see why I had to disappear, right?"
I sigh like my stomach just tossed up a fastball. “What is your real name Mr. Clumper?”
“W-what? I told you—”
“You’re lying. And your wife lied. I don’t like being lied to, see.” This is the part where I take out my Glock. Then point it. Right at my own mouth. “If your name is Bertie Clumper, I will eat a bullet.” I click off the safety. The orange peel of his complexion turns cauliflower white. I hate cauliflower as much as I hate the color orange.
“Oh God n-no, please don’t do that. Ok, ok, I’ll tell you, but it has to stay out of the newspapers, Ms. Barlowe.”
I put the gun down, but aim the barrel at my wannabe client. His eyes follow my hand. He swallows hard, like there’s a rat in his throat. Truth is, I’m beginning to smell one. “I-it’s Benjamin Salty.”
My eyes widen, you know the kind of widen, where I’m staring at a man with the IQ of a garden gnome. “You mean, Benjamin Salty the billionaire’s son?”
He has a tender smile, the kind where he thinks I’m an idiot too. “Yes. Now you see why I have to keep this out of the newspapers.”
I pick up the glock and point it at his mouth. “No, I don’t. But I will shoot out your left front tooth if you don’t tell me your real name.”
He jumps, the kind of jump that involves a plane and a parachute. “B-but honest to God, my name really is—”
I blow into the barrel of the Glock. Then slowly lift my feet off the desk. “Mr. Thaddeus Salty has no son, sonny boy.” I eye him like he’s a silhouette on a shooting range.
“Wait, wait, ok, ok.” He raises his right hand as if it’s a red octagonal stop sign. I hate stop signs. So does my roadster. “Clarence Oberon Binghorton III. That’s my real name, I swear to God.”
My eyebrows jump two stories. I recognize the West Palm Tree name. “I believe you. Know why? ‘Cos if I had a name like that, I’d be an orphan right now. Look, Mr. COB the III, like I said before only in different words; I hate liars as much as I hate panty hose, but I’m deciding right this minute to feel real sorry for you. So, tell me the whole story, see. Don’t leave anything out, ‘cos I’ll know if you do . . . I’m psychic, see.” I move the Glock next to my head, and position it barrel up. I click the safety back on. Good thing Mr. COB the III doesn’t know how to operate a gun. I can tell because he’s twitching to run. What are the odds he makes it out the door? Same as a mug breaking into my apartment while I’m at work. I’m psychic, see. And he’s smart enough to remember that.
He takes out a monogrammed hanky and brushes off the sweat pouring down his neck. “Sure, sure. I’ll keep it short. You see, I met Roxy a year ago—”
I open the top left drawer of my desk and take out a bottle of no doze. I down a couple of pills. “Look Mr. COB the III, if you and me are going to do the cha cha cha, there’s one thing you should oughta know. I like stories to start from the end, see. Then I’ll stop you when I’ve heard enough, capiche?”
“S-sure I guess. But isn’t that like saying the alphabet backward?”
I smile. It’s a rare event. But I like to brag sometimes. “Years ago I was learning the alphabet, see. I went outside and lined up all my flashcards. Then I ‘borrowed’ my dad’s Glock 22. I started with the letter Z. Guess which letter I ended up shooting last?”
He’s looking at me like I roast babies in an oven. Then he stammers real bad. “U-uh, I-I g-guess A?”
“No. Y. My dad took the gun away. This is my point: if you start your story at Z, the chances of me getting bored by Y are low.”
He looks relieved. “Got it. Ok, we were out parachuting and I landed in a barn yard. I got hurt as you can see—”
“Mr. COB the III, what were you doing in the plane prior to jumping? And don’t tell me you were admiring the scenery either, see.” I’ve never seen the color red up against platinum hair. It’s hideous. Makes me itchy. The kind of itchy that takes me back to my alphabet learning ways.
He spills the beans. “Roxy wanted to add some spice to our love life. So, we were going to time the jump you know to . . . well, I think you get the idea. But then I saw the gun. I had a bad feeling about it, so I jumped. She followed, but the wind separated us.”
He’s nervous, see. The right hand brushes stiff hair of the forehead, the kind of hair I see on dolls with big blue eyes, hoofer legs, gingham dresses, and big knockers. I’m starting to get nervous too, see. The kind of nervous where I drop a stick of dynamite in his pants accidentally on purpose.
“Why exactly do you need my help, Mr. Cob the III?”
“W-what? To keep her from killing me, of course. Follow her, stake her, do whatever it takes. She’s a cold-blooded, would-be killer, Ms. Barlowe. She wants my money and she’ll do anything to get it.”
“Did you try writing her out of the will?” Sometimes clients are real dumb in a why-didn't-I-think-of-that-kinda-way. Mr. COB the III may be one of them.
“Yes. But what’s to stop her from faking one? She’s good at that kind of stuff.”
Or maybe he’s not. I stand up. “Ok. That’ll be 20k, cash upfront. This is a complicated case.” I take out a receipt book. He doesn’t hesitate. Pulls out a roll of bills and drops 20, $1000 bills on my desk. I give him a receipt. “I’ll need an item your wife last touched.” I’m prepared this time. But he pulls a fast one on me, see. He digs into a pocket and comes out with a cigarette lighter, you know the kind, solid gold with attitude. “One last thing. Hire a bodyguard.”
He smiles like he just won a pimp car full of hookers. “Good idea!” He picks up his crutch and limps to the door. Then turns around. “Oh, so when do you think—”
“Your wife’s an angry, manipulative, money-hungry, back-stabbing dame, Mr. COB the III. That means she’s dangerous. I’m on her like a tomato on a john in a 1952 Chevrolet Styleline deluxe four-door convertible Drop Top!”
His mouth drops too.
“Now, get out and let me do my job. If you’re alive tomorrow, take that as a good sign!” I wink. He blinks.
Life is good.