Monday 21 March 2016

Homage (part 1).

eye, eye (private)

It was late September, about four o’clock in the afternoon with the sun struggling to cheer up the corners of my office. I was full from a late lunch and at that moment my office was full of a certain Mr A.J Peters Esquire, Attorney at Law.

I considered his business card and I considered Mr A.J. Peters.

I decided that I didn’t like his shoes.

“Are you Marlowe?” he asked, making my name sound like a sour lychee he had accidently swallowed. I indicated that indeed I was.

“I don’t care much for your office”, he added.

“I don’t care much for your shoes”, I replied “but I was going to keep it to myself.”

He didn’t like that, but he didn’t turn around and walk out so I offered him the customer’s chair and sat myself down behind my desk.

His shoes preceded him as he sat down and I had to slide backward to accommodate them; they were pointed – more than was necessary – and they appeared to be made of alligator skin - never necessary.

“I don’t care much for your attitude young man”, he spoke with a scarcely hidden sneer. It had been a long time since anyone had called me a young man, even in insult so I let it ride. I took a cigarette from the drawer and lit it; I wasn’t going to let the cigar A.J.Peters was smoking have all the fun.

He looked at me as if I had dropped an ice cream on his aunt’s flower-bed.

He was a tall man, even folded into the chair he looked like he could make any basketball team he wanted. His complexion was pallid, he obviously hadn’t been in the sun for several years and when he had the sun had probably been too sacred to try and change it. His eyes looked over my office with the same hatred that I imagined he reserved for most things and his shoes poked a bit further in my direction.

“If we’re going to do business together you’re going to have to learn to keep your feet to yourself Mr Peters, how can I help you?”

“I don’t care much for your tone sir.”

So it was Sir now; I was having trouble deciding if Mr A.J.peters was telling me off or complimenting me.

“There seems to be a lot of things you don’t care much for Mr Peters but I only have a problem with your shoes. If you don’t like my office, attitude or tone you can always find yourself another detective . I didn’t ask you to come here, I was quite happy doing nothing watching the afternoon and the autumn fade but if you want to hire me the room, attitude and tone are included at no extra charge.”

He smiled. The energy of that smile surprised me and his eyes flashed from hate to friendliness with a smoothness that can only be achieved after many years practice.

“I like you Mr Marlowe, you stand up for yourself and I’m looking for someone who can. If I can make you crumble then anyone would, and that won’t help me”

I said nothing and he went on.

“It’s a delicate matter and I have come to you as I don’t want any publicity. I need you to find my wife, she’s been missing a month.”

‘That’s a long time to be missing, have you had any help from the police?”

“I haven’t been to the police.”

I pointed out that they had a good service for this sort of thing.

“I haven’t had time Mr Marlowe, I’m a very busy man.”

“Do you love your wife” I asked?

His eyes flashed back to red again. “I don’t care much for your question Mr Marlowe.

So, I was back to plain Mr Marlowe now, maybe that would teach me. Somehow I thought not.

“If my wife had been missing for a month I think I might have done something other than being too busy”, I said.

“Are you married Mr Marlowe?”

I told him I wasn’t. I didn’t tell him how much that hurt.

“Then you probably don’t understand. You see, it’s not the first time Mabel has been away, we have fought before.”

“Did you fight this time?”

“I don’t think that is any of your business, your job is to find her”.

“None of it is my business at the moment Mr Peters, and it only will be if we agree some things from the outset. Leaving the shoes to one side we have to been completely open with each other. Anything that I think can help me I have to be able to ask and in return you can expect total discretion. I will report to you and you alone.” It was my usual professional pitch. 
Except for the bit about the shoes.

“How much do you charge”, he was reaching for his chequebook.

“One hundred and fifty a day with a weeks retainer paid as a deposit.” The chequebook went back into hiding.

“I don’t care very much for your fee Mr Marlowe, it seems very excessive.”

“And i don’t care much for cheques, I work much better with cash”, I wondered how long we could keep this up.

He smiled.

“Excellent”, he said, his eyes were green again - if hazel coloured eyes can be green. “I didn’t worry about Mabel at the beginning, I assumed she had gone back to her mother’s again. They are very close and her mother hates me so it does her good to have an accomplice.”

“It might be your shoes”, I said. I couldn’t resist it. Surprisingly he didn’t react.

“We can dispense with the cheap gags Mr Marlowe, and I wish you would.”

“They’re not cheap Mr Peters, I use some of the finest writers in Hollywood”. I don’t know what had got into me; maybe it was the time of year, autumn always made me feel sad or maybe it was bing reminded once again that I needed this job more than I cared to admit. “But I apologise, please go on.”

“Yesterday I got a phone call from Mabel and she sounded frightened. She asked me for money and told me to bring it to a hotel.”

“How much did she want?’

“Three thousand, it’s a lot of money but I was able to get it.”

“So why do you need me?”

“I’m worried Mr Marlowe, I went to the hotel and no one there knew anything about her. She wasn’t a guest and never had been. Something may have happened.”

“Have you spoken to her mother?”

“She won’t speak to me, you will have to do that.”

“Is there any reason that you think she would need three thousand for?” It seemed a lot of money to me too.

“ I haven’t the least idea, and frankly I don’t have the time, that’s what I need a Private Investigator for, I’m a very busy man Mr Marlowe, will you find her for me?” The chequebook appeared again.

I told him I would do my best.

He told me at one hundred and fifty a day he would expect nothing less.

I asked him if he had a photo.

He gave me one.

Mabel Peters was a good-looking woman, it was only a head shot but one that left you wanting to know a whole lot more.

“The hotel is The Alexior on Main Street and this is her mother’s phone number.” He handed me a piece of paper.

The handwriting was as pointed as his shoes, which now led him out of the room and into the corridor.

He turned in the sunlight and for a moment I saw that his hard exterior was a mask, his face was worried and he looked older than he probably was, much older than Mrs Peters appeared in her photo.

“I’ll be in touch Mr Marlowe. Good luck”.

I didn’t like the way he said that, and it wasn’t because of his shoes.


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