Note From the Author: This was the first incarnation of Detective Creak, set in a different time period and more overtly pulp fiction. Written as a homage to Raymond Chandler.
It’s always a bad day when a blonde walks into your office. Oh I know it’s a cliché, but when a gorgeous fair haired woman knocks on your door and, with an innocent timid voice, asks if you can help, you just know you’re in for a rough time. There’s just something about that kind of woman. A girl that beautiful, with the figure of an exotic princess, must know she makes the coldest of men go weak at the knees, and yet there she sits, hands daintily laid on her lap, eyes wider than a begging puppy, looking to all like the loneliest, most forlorn creature in the world.
The worst thing though, the thing that really makes me give up on the idea of a God, is that I can sit here in my office, with such a woman, pick up every tiny movement she makes, every action in which she tries to illicit the desired response, I know her game so well that I can even predict her next move; but still, when she’s finished and she’s sitting there, those eyes looking straight into mine, I can’t say no.
“Sure babe,” I smile back, “I can help” I pull out a cigarette and slowly turn it in my fingers tapping each end on the table as it passes.
“I didn’t even know you guys still existed, I thought you we’re all gone, save in the movies.” Her voice was a practised whine, just the right amount of misery mixed in with her usual seductive tone to bring any man under her spell. Sure we all want a gorgeous bird, but a gorgeous bird can fly at any moment. What you really want, is a gorgeous bird who needs you. I sighed.
“One sixty a day, first week up front, if it takes less than a week I keep the lot. What’s the game?”
“One sixty? Well I never!” for a second she lost her cool, her demeanour flipped to her usual side, the one that the average Joe who couldn’t offer a thing usually saw, but it didn’t last long. She caught herself and her voice softened once more. “I couldn’t possibly afford that much; it’s not a big job.”
“I’m sure we can work something out, spit it out beautiful and we’ll see.” Damn, there it was again. I just couldn’t say no.
“Oh thank you, I heard you were an honourable man…”
“Can the sweet talk hun, I ain’t one to jump because a cute piece of ass whistles, just tell me the job and I’ll see what I can do.
“It’s my father.” I couldn’t stop a smile flicker across my face; it was going to be about inheritance then. “He wrote his will yesterday.” Bingo. “But he’s not all there in the head, if you get me, he promised my sister and I the house and everything, but in his will he’s giving it all away; selling it off to charity. It’s our family home you see, it’s not about the wealth of it, but we grew up there, it’s our family heritage.”
“So? What you want me to do about it? I’m a private detective honey, not a lawyer.”
“Well I thought maybe if you talked to him, you could get him to see it from our point of view?”
“Why don’t you do that? You seem to have the art of persuasion working fairly well, just pull the whole little girl thing you think you do so well.”
“It’s not as simple as that, before anyone talks to him, I want to know what’s actually in the will, I only got a quick look at it; he locked it in his safe.” And here it goes; things are never as simple as people first want you to believe.
“So you want me to acquire the document for you first?”
“Yes, he keeps it in his safe in his study, its in a small metal briefcase, bring the whole thing to me, I’ll give you a replacement case to put in there so he doesn’t notice its missing. He won’t open it.”
“Why don’t I just take the document out of the case then?”
“I don’t want you to force the lock, he’ll notice, I have a key”
“Give me the key, it’ll make it quicker for me to get in and out if I don’t have to carry a case.” She paused; she was keeping her distressed family member routine going longer than I thought she’d be able to. Yet there were just a few signs that her façade was starting to crack.
“I meant I’ll have the key. I haven’t got it yet. But I need you to get me the case by tomorrow, my fathers taking us all out this evening; he’ll be out of the house till midnight. I’ll leave the back door unlocked, and the combination to his safe is five-five-six-two. Oh and I’ll leave the second case by the open door, under something.” The one thing that makes the difference between a good detective, and a great detective, is not knowing what questions to ask, but knowing what questions not to ask. In any case, it wasn’t my business if I believed her story or not, a night’s work was a night’s pay, and my whiskey glass had been only half filled for too long these days. I needed the money.
“Alright honey, I’ll accept one hundred for the night. If you need me beyond that we go back to my usual fee. Deal?”
“Yes, ok.” She passed a piece of paper to me. “Our address, I’ll leave the back door unlocked as I said and the code is…”
“Five-five-six-two, I got you. Don’t worry. Come pick up the case from me tomorrow at ten.” She stood up to leave. It was a beautiful sight. As she closed the door behind her, I drew open my bottom draw and took the bottle that slept there out on to my desk, pouring a large glass. “Here’s to blondes and bills.” I muttered, toasting the closed door.
I checked the address on the mailbox with the one on the note, and then switched the car headlights off. I nestled into my seat and waited. I’d arrived their early, I wanted to make sure that they all left the house like she’d said they would. Her story was far too loose for me to trust her. It wasn’t long before a saloon pulled out of their long driveway, but only two people were in it. Five minutes later another car appeared, this time with a sole occupant, one long haired blonde. It turned the in the opposite direction to the first car.
I kicked my own car into gear and set off after the second, keeping my distance. Fifteen minutes and we were out of the long drives and big houses and into the cosier end of town, the end where I liked to spend the night getting friendly with a shot glass. We pulled up outside a bar and the girl hurried inside. I waited in the warm seat of my car. It wasn’t long before she came out, carrying a metal case. She seemed to be getting a nice collection of those things. The case was placed on her passenger seat and she pulled away, I didn’t have to follow her for long till I realised she was off towards the fancy restaurant district, and so I let her go, I still had a job to do.
The case, the door and the safe all worked as she said they would. I resisted the urge to break the case open that she’d left, to see if it had anything interesting in it. ‘Just take the cheque and leave it’ I told myself, ‘no need to pry into something no ones paying me for.’ I sat in the office, watching the phone, feeling the pull of the bottom draw of my desk. At ten on the dot a knock came on my door and the blonde entered. I picked the case up from the floor and slid it across my desk.
“Did you have any problems?” She said, sitting down and crossing her long legs. She’d refreshed her routine and was back on top form. I glanced out the window to compose myself.
“Without a hitch darling, you got the money?” She slid an envelope on top of the case. I counted the bills twice, but kept half an eye on her as I did so, noticing her trying to subtly check the locks weren’t tampered. Still looking at the money I spoke.
“Don’t worry doll face; I didn’t look in the case. I figured if it was that important you’d have to get me on the job to steal it, you’d soon be in enough trouble to warrant telling me what’s in it. Take your time, I’ll be here.” Her smile twitched,
“I won’t be needing you again Mr…” she made a rather poor attempt at pretending to forget my name. “Mr Creak.”
“Ms Saunders,” I sparked up a cigarette and took a long refreshing drag. “The way I see it, your playing at least three sides in this deal. Now I’m guessing the case you got me to put in daddies safe really was empty, but I have no idea what was in that case you picked up from Joey’s Bar.” Her smile flickered. “Still believe us guys are only in movies huh? Still think you couldn’t use me?”
“As I said Mr, it’s all done now. I’ve paid you and I don’t need your services any more.”
“What ever you say doll face, you wanna scram now? I’ve got work to do.” She gave me an ironic smile, stood up and once again I was allowed to watch the beautiful ballet that was her leaving. I sat thinking for awhile, finished my cigarette and as I stubbed it out I came to a decision. I wasn’t sure what that decision was yet but I’d definitely come to it. I took my hat from the stand and left my office.
First I drove to Joey’s and had a quick chat to the barman. He didn’t have anything interesting to say. He’d never seen any blonde, she’d not picked up a briefcase from a tall guy who definitely wasn’t dressed in a nice suit or walked with a polished cane. I thanked the barman for his time with a nice tip and went to sit in my car. It wasn’t enough of a lead; a well dressed guy in a dive bar wasn’t unusual enough to track down. I had nowhere else to go unless the blonde turned up again. I hated not having any cards to play. I could always go talk to the dad, but that seemed a little too risky for no cash, especially without more of a clue about what was going on. I guess I’d just have to see how clever I really was.
I headed back to the office only to hear the phone ringing as I entered the room. I picked up the receiver and perched myself on the desk.
“Creak, can I help?”
“You rolled anyone into the river lately?”
“Sergeant, not a social call then?”
“Creak, just answer the question. We’ve fished a stiff out with two slugs in the back of his head.”
“If I’d knocked him off, why would I tell you now?”
“Look, this guy was a nobody, I don’t care if you did it. I just wanna know if you did before I hook it to some other guy.”
“Good to know the department is keeping up its fine standards. Sorry to disappoint though, it wasn’t me. Who’s the stiff?”
“Some old guy, a Mr Saunders, from Hartley district.”
“No kidding? 782 Sharp Street?”
“You sure you didn’t whack this guy?”
“No, I was doing some work for his daughter, will related. Maybe you should check that out?” I heard the Sergeant sigh and he went silent at the end of the receiver for awhile.
“You had to tell me that didn’t you? Now I’m gonna have to change my report and actually do some questioning.”
“How about I do the questioning, I’ll give you all the information once I’m done.”
“You don’t need to ask twice.” The receiver clicked into place. ‘Who needs to be smart when lady luck is smiling on you in a low cut top?’ I thought as I left my office and once again drove to Ms Saunders house.
It took a long time for anyone to answer the door. Eventually it cracked open and a weasel like nose poked through the slim opening. “Wha’d’ya want?”
“I’ve come to speak to Ms Saunders, Mr Weasel.” I said with a huge grin. The door flung open, and the guy with the weasel nose tried to throw a fist. I caught his wrist comfortably in my right hand and twisted his arm behind his back, pushing his nose into the door frame.
“I’m assuming you’re a hired goon.” I said through tight lips. “No one else would be stupid enough to open a door to a guy who had just insulted him.” I looked down at him, and tightened the twist of his arm for my own personal pleasure. “You’re too scrawny to get work on your own though buddy, so where’s your partner? Probably a big dumb guy called Ox or something.”
“I work alone.” Panted the guy. “I don’t need no one else.”
“Allow me to disagree, Mr Weasel.” I twisted his arm tighter up his back, leaning in on him to cramp his face right into the door frame. “So where’s your buddy?”
“Upstairs with the lady.”
“Damn it.” I sneered sarcastically. “I should have got my payment that way too.”
“Nah, they’re packing stuff up. She’s leaving town and we’re escorting her.”
“You know it’s traditional to wait to be asked before you volunteer all the information.” I released his arm and let him collapse onto the floor. “Gun” I barked and watched as he tugged a tiny pistol and slide it at my feet. Goons. I shook my head, turning to head up the staircase. Too dumb to be cops, too cowardly to be bodyguards, and far too good at convincing people they can actually help in some way.
At the top of the stairs I could hear muffled voices coming from behind one of the doors and I quietly moved towards it, pressing myself against the wall and then, using my heal, I kicked the door open. It swung in violently and then, as predictably as ever, a large muscle bound man led by a gun stepped out. With one swift slap I knocked the gun from his hand then, twisting from the wall, I stood in front of him with his partner’s small gun held at stomach height.
“How are you Mr Ox?” I crooned, my grin sweeping back over my lips.
“Who the hell are you? How did you get here?”
“Your partner was kind enough to let me into the house, but for the most part I’d say I drove.” I glanced over at Ms Saunders, she was stood next to an open suitcase lain on a big double bed, it was stuffed full of clothes. “Hello doll face, planning a vacation? Get this goon to leave, we need to talk.”
“You’re the one who will be leaving.” Said the bulk of a man. I waggled the gun a little, still grinning.
“Sorry buddy, but I’m the one calling the shots.” I emphasised the word ‘shot’ and waggled the gun again just to make my point clear. “Get him to leave sweetness. Blood is a hell of a thing to wash out.” Ms Saunders flicked a weak smile at her hired muscle and finally spoke.
“Leave us Finch, this guy’s all right. Go check on Charlie.” The muscle grunted and pushed past me. I stepped into the room and shut the door behind me and dropped my grin in place of a tighter smile.
“So what’s the game hun? Whacked your dad now skipping town?” Her eyes welled up a bit and she sat down on the bed next to her suitcase.
“I just don’t know what to do.” her voice had the whine of a little girl who had lost her favourite doll. “Someone’s killed daddy, and my sisters missing. I think they maybe after me next.”
“Your sister is missing? Maybe she’s the one who whacked your dear old man.”
“She wouldn’t, she can’t even slap a man without feeling guilty about it. I think they’ve got her, and I’ll be next.”
“Who’s got her? Look sweet cheeks, if you want me to help you, you better start making more sense. I want the facts, I want them now.”
“Daddy has a gambling problem.”
“Had.” I corrected. Her whine was starting to sound like a dazed mosquito and it was getting on my nerves.
“He had a problem. He owed a lot of money to this guy. A couple of weeks ago the guy sent some people round and they started making all these threats. We couldn’t pay because we’d have nothing to live on, but they agreed to go if dad signed all his assets to them in his will. After they’d gone I got a call, the man didn’t trust daddy to do it so he wanted me to get the will and show him daddy had changed it in favour of them.”
“I see.” I said. She finally seemed genuine this time. She’d lost that flirtatious routine, and now with her mascara smudged by tears and her hands shivering on her lap I didn’t feel the urge to please her, I just pitied her. “So that’s why you got me to do the job, but what was in that case you got from the bar that same night?”
“After I’d asked you to steal the case, I got a call from them, the man wanted to see me because he wanted to change the plan. He gave me the case and told me to switch it with daddies.”
“What was in it?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t look. I just switched it.”
“Well let’s go take a look.” I took her by the wrist and pulled her out of the room and down into her fathers study. The goons seemed to have left; decided the job wasn’t worth their usual fee no doubt. I quickly opened the safe and pulled out the metal case. “Open it.”
“I don’t have a key.”
“Darling, if they wanted you to switch it as you said, they’d had to of given you a key so no one would get suspicious once they whacked your dad, and yes that was they’re plan all along. Guys like that don’t like to wait for an old guy to croak.” She looked at me for a second and then pulled a small key out of her left bra cup. The manoeuvre only took a second but it was long enough for me to catch a good sight of cleavage, and I felt my knee’s weaken again. She opened the case and sure enough there was a will inside. I leafed through it and a smile crossed my lips. “Seems to me you’ve been doing my job for me.”
“What do you mean?” She pouted slightly, her eyes widening.
“If your story is as you said it is, then this should be what ever was in the new case the nice suited gentleman gave you.” I glanced over the papers again. “This is the will that was in the original case that you paid me to steal, I guarantee it. All assets to be paid to some charity, quite obviously a fake. Daddy was trying to pull a fast one.”
“Maybe they’d changed their name or something.”
“Maybe, but it seems more likely to me that you’ve switched the cases back again. So where’s the case the nice suited guy gave you in the bar?”
“This is it.” Her eyes started welling up again. “Honestly, this is it. I just want to get out of here. They could be coming to get me again.” She turned to leave the room and I caught her arm in a firm grip.
“Hold it sugar. I’m here to keep you safe, if the stories as you said it is then there’s no reason for them to knock you off. They think they’ve got their money. Your sister was either in on it or has done a runner like you were planning. The stories not like you told it though is it. This case proves it. This is the original case; I want to see the other one.”
“I told you I don’t know where it is.” She rested her arm from my grip and headed out of the study. A thought drifted into my mind and I followed her, catching her arm again at the bottom of the stairs.
“How much were those goons charging?”
“What?” I could see the confusion on her face.
“Your two goons, how much were they charging?”
“About three hundred.”
“Wow.” I whistled. “Girl you were done there. You can’t have negotiated much.”
“I didn’t have time to haggle.” Her words still had a tinge of a whine but there seemed to be some background bass of anger. “I needed to get out of town, I needed protection.”
“When you came to see me though darling, you seemed a little too shocked about my fees. Sure you do that I’m a young girl who doesn’t understand how the world works routine very well, but I’d bet my whole fee that you honestly didn’t have enough money to pay me a full weeks wage. Yet, now you’re forking out three hundred smackers just for a couple of taxi drivers.” I let go of her arm and went up the stairs in front of her. I could hear her chasing after me as I entered her bedroom and plunged my hands deep into her suitcase, they hit something metal. ‘Bingo’.
“What you doing?” Ignoring her, I pulled the metal case out of her luggage and, pulling the goon’s small gun out my pocket, whacked the lock with the butt. The case sprung open, and wads of cash fell out of it.
“I think there’s something else you haven’t told me.” I said turning round to be greeted by a small pistol. Ms Saunders stood there, her face stern and solid. Her eyes sharp and her aim perfect.
“You really are persistent aren’t you Mr Creak.” No hint of whine now, it was almost like she was a completely different woman. “Step away from the case and chuck me that gun.” I did as I was ordered. “Who knew such a small time Shamus could be such a burden. I should have guessed you would be trouble in your office.”
“Jesus” I spat, mostly in anger at myself. “I can’t believe I was almost taken in by your helpless woman routine. It was just such a relief to have you stop looking at me with those big puppy dog eyes.” I looked back at her, taking a step forward. “You won’t do it though sugar, you ain’t a killer. Give me the gun, and we’ll sort this mess out. You might know how to play a guy, but I you won’t be able to pull that trigger on me.”
“Are you sure Mr Creak?”
“I’ve seen killers, sweet cheeks. I’ve seen they’re eyes. They all look the same. As soon as you pull that trigger your innocent little girl routine is going to go straight out the window.”
“I don’t know about that, seems to have worked since I shot daddy.” I tried not to smile. It’s always nice to get the confession out of someone, and it’s amazing how the security of holding a gun loosens the tongue at the same time. Unfortunately, I still had a pistol aimed at me.
“So what you going to do now then? Whack me here? In your own bedroom?”
“You’d be surprised Shamus, how few cops are actually prepared to arrest a woman like me when I suggest a candlelit dinner.”
“They already pulled you in for this, haven’t they? The sergeant’s not quite as lazy as I thought.” She let herself show a thin lipped smile.
“Yes, that one cost me a little more than dinner, but I had left the gun with my prints in the car.” She smiled a little more, I could feel her sense of victory growing up inside her, but things still weren’t that clear to me.
“So why the hell did the sergeant phone me?” She pouted in a mockery of the routine she’d displayed in my office.
“Bad people are after me, threatening to take my daddy’s money. I need someone to play their role, don’t I? I’d given you enough information to make you seem involved when the sergeant spoke to you. Unfortunately, you came round here in a fit of anger when you find out the will I showed you was actually a forgery and I’m still getting daddy’s money. You come at me, and I shoot you. Self defence.”
“So your dad hadn’t changed his will? Was he really a gambler?”
“Oh daddy was a gambler alright; its just he was far too good at it for his own good. Never put his winnings in a bank though, my sister and I didn’t know where he kept them, but then I caught a glimpse of the metal case in his safe. I called a friend to make a fake will for daddy.”
“The guy in the bar? But that means…” I paused as things cleared up in my mind. I’d been blind this time, I really had. “The suitcase I stole had the money in it?”
“Yes. You had over sixty grand in your office over night and you didn’t even realise it. The one risk was that you’d open the case, but I judged you too honest to outright steal it from me. I’d hoped to get you to put the fake will in there, but unfortunately I couldn’t get it in time, so I had to switch it with the empty case later in the week, after dealing with daddy. The important thing was that when the sergeant was inquiring after daddy’s death I told him that you’d been threatening daddy to try and make him change his will. I knew he’d phone you and try and see what you’d been up too. From his angle, the fact that you knew me at all was incriminating enough, and when you said you’d take the investigation off him, he thought you were just trying to hush it up. He’s waiting outside in a squad car now. He watched you come in ten minutes ago, he saw you attack the feeble goon at the door. Who do you think he’ll believe when he hears the gunshot? A corpse or a beautiful terrified woman who was only acting out of self defence?”
I had to admit, I was in pretty big trouble here, and that was the understatement of the century. Even if I did manage to get past the broad with the gun, I’d have some pretty heavy explaining to do to the cops once I stepped outside. No doubt Ms Saunders would add some screaming to make it all seem authentic. I presumed the only reason she hadn’t done that now was because she wanted me dead rather than in custody, if I was in custody I would blab about the briefcase of money, and her whole story would tumble like a house of cards. I still didn’t get something though.
“Why would I be blackmailing your father?” I asked in what I hoped was a gentle and non provoking tone. “Seems like you thought of everything else, but in the story you told me, it was your fathers gambling debts that had got him into trouble. I don’t run casinos, there’s no way he’d owe me money.”
“You’d kidnapped sweet little sis.” Her eyes still seemed to sparkle as she said this; it sent shivers down my spine. “You see at first my sister and I were planning to get daddy’s money together, but she refused my plan. I had everything sorted apart from the reason you’d be involved in the first place, and when sister decided killing daddy was too risky, and even threatened to go to the police if I did it alone, I saw a solution to both problems in one.”
“Seems like its all wrapped up then ain’t it doll face – just one more thing to do.” I watched her carefully as she raised the gun up.
“Of course it would be more realistic if you screamed first, I am meant to be coming at you right?” I grinned at her. “Details the key darling.”
She looked at me and then closed an eye, squinting along the barrel. She screamed. I dropped to the floor. And she shot. The window behind me exploded as I rolled sideways behind the bed. Another bullet whistled past my forehead as I heard someone kick the downstairs door in. I quickly shuffled to the far end of the bed, stretching my arm along the bed frame. I picked up part of the quilt as far away from me as possible, and then held the corner near my head with my other hand. Footsteps we’re banging up the stairs as I stood up quickly, holding the quilt in front of me and keeping my body to one side. Two more gunshots ripped through the middle of the quilt, one connecting with my arm causing me to drop my cover just as two policemen romped into the room, shouting at everyone in an indistinguishable clamour.
The room was now a mess, shattered glass littered the wall I was stood next to. I’d bled over the bed in front of me, and in pulling the quilt up I’d caused the suitcase and briefcase of money to come crashing down onto the floor, littering the space in front of the door with a mixture of clothes and banknotes. Ms Saunders would have to answer some tough questions about that, and now she’d told me her tale, I think I could get myself out of this one. I smiled to myself as a policeman twisted my arm behind my back, clamping the handcuffs on nice and tight. ‘It’s always the same’ I thought, ‘When a blonde walks into your office, you just know its going to be a bad day.’