Private detectives carry many similar traits but the one that runs through all of them, like special brew through alcoholics, is that we are all too clever to be cops. I’m not talking about the muscle-for-hire goons that plod around behind a big shot as if they were attached to his rear. Those kind of guys are one whisky away from being brain dead. No, I mean proper private detectives. The guys who work for pennies; skulking in dark alleys on a tail, getting cold hard gun muzzles jabbed into their backs, and fists jabbed into their faces.
I admit that on the face of it, it doesn’t seem like a smart decision. Cops get the luxury of punching guys once they have firmly chained their hands together, they get to sit in nice dry patrol cars until the radio tells them where their mark is and, best of all, they get paid no matter what. On the face of it, it’s a no brainer. That’s exactly it though, it’s a no brainer. A guy could only be satisfied with being told where to go, how to solve a crime, and who he can or can’t piss off if he was a few brain cell deaths away from being a goon.
If you weren’t a clever man you’d be signing up at the blue lantern as quick as you could say ‘easy life’ but for someone with a bit more brains, police work isn’t enough. The cops aren’t aimed at catching people who break the law, they’re designed to catch criminals, namely, those who can be convicted of breaking the law. They follow a scent until it starts turning sour and then just drop it as a dead cause. They let people walk free because, despite knowing they’re the same as everybody else in this god forsaken town and are as guilty as hell, they can’t pin anything to them.
Sure some cops are more dedicated than most and put the extra effort into beating a confession out of someone. Those guys aren’t looking for the truth though, they’re looking for something to make their figures look better or, more often than not, they’re just looking for a punk to take their frustrations out on.
A true detective; a pure detective; a private detective, doesn’t stop until he knows what has happened. I don’t want to glorify my colleagues; it’s not out of a passion for justice or a desire to stop criminals that we keep fighting till the bitter end. It’s because we want to know what went on, we need to know what went on and, most of all, we need them to know that we know what went on. We want them to know we’re better than them.
Private detectives are criminals with a conscience. Sometimes we’re the reformed alcoholic but, more often than not, we’re the repressed homophobic. Too scared to admit what lurks beneath, so we fight against it, demonise it, and hold ourselves above it whenever we can. We are not criminals because we’re better than them. We’re better than them because we catch them. We catch them because we know them. It doesn’t take a Private detective to figure out the spiral that that leads to.
If we weren’t smart we’d be a cop, getting paid easy money to follow orders. If we weren’t men of conscience we’d be criminals, using our brains to make a tidy pile corrupting the already rotting moral fabric of society. But we’re both, so we’re detectives, slogging our guts out for little reward simply because we have no other place to be.
There is no better example of this than my last case. It happened two weeks ago, which is depressing in itself. It was a Tuesday, and I was doing what I always do on a Tuesday morning, I was trying to slowly burn my IQ points away with Russell’s premium reserve. I was just contemplating how bad Russell’s standard whisky must taste if this was the best he could produce when a man, all hat and coat tails, burst into my office.
I’d had to let my secretary go the week before, on account of her insistence that what she did was worth paying for, and ever since then a grand total of zero people had decided to barge into my office. I was, therefore, understandably taken aback. It was to my fortune that, as the man shouldered his way through my office door, he dropped his hat and had to stoop to pick it up. This gave me a few moments with which to compose myself and adopt my usual placid yet baleful eyes.
The man fidgeted for a brief moment, turning his hat through his hands like a steering wheel, before grabbing at the plain chair and dropping onto it like an over ripe apple. I squinted at him, trying to size him up. He was quivering all over, which made it look like he was slightly out of focus, his sides blurring in with the background and giving him an almost formless shape. His face didn’t do much to help this impression either, with an ocean of rolls of flab under his chin and the puffed out sagging cheeks of a dog. The only thing that seemed to provide any shape to the man was his moustache. It was grey, like his hair, but still clinging to shots of black that streaked through it like cracks in a pavement.
He was clearly a man of wealth, though, and not the sort of client I would have expected, but then again, these days, I didn’t expect any clients at all. I glanced down at my whisky glass, the thick amber liquid barely staining its base, and decided I had to make sure I kept this client. That meant best behaviour.
“How may I help you Sir?” I asked, trying to relax my face into something resembling a smile. The look of absolute horror that he shot back at me forced me to admit I probably hadn’t achieved it and I gave up, adopting my more usual stoney expression.
“I n-n-need your-or help. The p-olice don’t know any-any-anything. I need ya-ya-your help” he quivered back at me. I causally leant back, grabbing behind myself without looking, and plucked a small glass from the shelf. Placing it down on the desk I poured a shot of my precious poison. I couldn’t help being reminded of the time I’d tailed a casino boss’ goon a little too closely down an alleyway and had ended up sleeping in a rubbish bin for the night. I’d been so cold when someone finally sprung me that I couldn’t string two syllables together and all I had wanted was a whisky to take the chill away.
Ok, so this guy wasn’t cold, but something certainly had chilled his soul to the point where it was trying to break from his body, so maybe a little nip would help calm him down. He grabbed at the drink and knocked it back in one, his throat rippling like cascading dominos as he swallowed. I topped his glass up again. I knew my job. Sometimes you had to play barman first, a few drinks and a friendly ear, some punters liked that.
“Just Relax Sir,” I cooed in as soft a tone as my charred voice box could manage, “If you explain to me your problem, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Relax” he barked in such a sudden fit of anger that, despite myself, caused me to recoil back in my seat slightly. “You don’t tell me to Relax,” he thumped a clenched fist on the desk, the ripples of blubber on his wrist shooting up under his shirt cuffs. “This is im-important, they’re g-gone. Gone.” His eyes fell as his final word sat uncomfortably on his tongue. His whole body drooped a little more and the last guttering flames in his spirit went out. He was a beaten man, a pile of dejected meat, slumped in his chair like a sack of unwashed clothes.
I leant back once more and, making a grab for a crumpled packet of smokes off the shelf, I slotted one of the white cylinders into my mouth. The flame from my match cast curious shadows on the man’s bulging form as I puffed my vice into life.
“Maybe we should start with the basics” I said through the fresh smoke that was slowly meandering up to the ceiling, “What’s your name?” The man hardly moved, his eyes fixed on my desk like a school boy who knows he’s in for a sound thrashing. His voice was weaker but less ponderous.