Friday, January 18, 2013

Roll With It

I am honored this week to be interviewed on Tricia Drammeh's website about up and coming authors. You can check it out and read an excerpt from  "Desperate Measures". Here's the link.

This week I had the chance to get together with another writer and as so often happens we started brainstorming story ideas. One of the things that came to light out of our conversation was that there's nothing quite like a well crafted short story. It's been a while since I tried my hand at one, but I do have a few of them collecting dust in the archives. Several of these were published a long time ago in small press magazines, but like a good wine, the enjoyment remains. When reading these over, it's like rediscovering an old friend, someone who greets you with a warm smile and hands you an adult beverage. In situations like that, you just have to roll with it. So while I plan to check out some new possible venues to submit these to, I thought I'd share part of a story here. I will continue the story next time.

Goody Two Shoes

It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was. Rain slammed into the glass outside my office like frozen confetti from a victory parade in Times Square. But I had no reason to celebrate. Except maybe the warm company of my Old Grand-Dad.  I guess whisky to sip could be considered cause for celebration.
There hadn't been a client through the doors in so long I was contemplating a career change. My last assignment had been a divorce job and the wife still hadn't coughed up my fee. My visitor's chair was coated in dust so thick, an archaeologist might refuse to take a seat. Maybe I could get my hack license and prowl the streets looking for fares. Or the monastery might be looking for a few recruits. I was still feeling sorry for myself when a shadow filled the glass portion of my door and knuckles grazed the pane.
"Bar's open." I made no attempt to hide the booze or rise from my chair. Any visitors at this late hour would have to take me as I am.
The door swung open, hinges creaking eerily.  My guest remained in the doorway, whether from uncertainty or for dramatic effect, I couldn't tell. Nor did I care.
"Mr. Case? Mr. Justin Case?" Her voice was roses and honey, with a hint of southern belle thrown in for good measure.
"That's what is says on the door, Sweetheart." If I'd been a smoker, it would have been my cue to light one up.
"I need your help, Mr. Case." She hovered in the entrance, like a thoroughbred waiting for the gate to open before the championship race.
"Come in and take a load off, Doll." I switched the desk lamp on high and tilted my fedora back. My shoulder holster needed adjusting, but I ignored it, not wanting to spook her by drawing attention to my big gun.
She sashayed in close enough for the light to reach her. She wore a man's felt hat, maybe a Stetson, and a tan raincoat that reached her ankles. She paused long enough to shake the moisture from the coat and hang it from the brass rack by the door. When she reached my visitor's chair, she nonchalantly flipped the Stetson behind her. It bounced off the door and settled on the hook.  Smooth.
"What seems to be your problem, Miss ---?"
"Twoshoes. Call me Goody."
I dumped the last two fingers of yesterday's coffee from my ceramic mug and poured her a jolt of the whisky. Alcohol sterilizes everything, right? "Have a blast, Goody, and tell me why you need my help."
She downed the shot like a sailor on leave.  While Goody was avoiding my eyes and summoning the nerve to talk, I did a quick inventory. Auburn hair dangled below her shoulders, with just enough curl to get lost in.  Green eyes chiseled out of an emerald, perched above an aquiline nose that had never been wiped on anything short of Victorian lace. Soft, pouty lips painted in hot pink. A slender throat that begged to be smothered in kisses. The body was shapely, concealed in a black wool dress that hugged her curves like a Jaguar on a racetrack. The legs were long and supple, wrapped in black silk stockings. Black stiletto heels covered her dainty feet.
"I think someone's trying to kill me, Mr. Case," Goody said in a throaty whisper.
"Just call me Case. What gives you that idea?"
"There have been three accidents lately. At least, that's what the police are calling them." She drained the last of the Old Grand-Dad into her mug and tossed it back without so much as a gulp. My throat burned just watching her.
"Tell me about the accidents."
"The first one was Monday. Then Tuesday. The last one was today."
I picked up my best ballpoint pen, the one from Al's Repossessions and Bail Bonds, and drew a pad out of the desk drawer and rephrased the question. "What type of accidents?"
"Oh. Well, first the mirror fell on my bed. Then my cat died on the stairs. And today, it was poor Francis."
"I don't think the first two are much to get excited about, Doll."
Goody ran the tip of her tongue across those hot pink lips and looked longingly at the empty whisky bottle. "The mirror killed Felix. Felix Flingeasy."
I paused in my attempts to determine if she was wearing underwear and studied her face. "The billionaire?"
"Uh huh. He was my uncle. Felix stopped by Monday to take me out to dinner. I'd been shopping all day and was running late. He came in with me and flopped on the bed while I was freshening up."
My mind whirled, trying to remember the details from Tuesday's paper about the city's favorite gigolo. Flamboyant Felix Flingeasy founded his fortune in furs, furniture and freighters. He supposedly had more romantic liaisons than Valentino and Casanova put together. Goody needed a little prompting. "And the mirror---"
"Had been mounted on the ceiling over the bed. It had been there for months, a gift from Grandpa Twoshoes. Grandpa always said it was the best way to start the day, by looking upon a sweet face like mine. The mirror crashed down on top of poor Felix."
"I thought the police determined he died during a domestic dispute?"
Goody sighed and shifted in her chair. She crossed her gams, and then spent a few seconds smoothing her skirt around her knees.  My mind, always alert, swung back to the underwear controversy.  "Parts of the mirror shattered and cut him pretty badly. The police thought it was better for his image to play up the domestic problem."
"Tell me about the cat." My money was on a black lace bra and matching garter belt to complete her mourning ensemble. Or maybe a camisole.
"Fluffy died Tuesday. She fell down the stairs and landed on my fencing foil. She was never very graceful."
"You always leave your fencing foil lying around?"
Goody shook her head once. "I had a lesson Tuesday morning. Right after making the arrangements for Felix's funeral. Fluffy fell off her futon on the landing and was filleted by the foil."
"Fluffy had a futon?"
"Fluffy was Felix's favorite feline, Case. He felt a futon was appropriate for a frisky female like Fluffy. It was Felix's idea that I take fencing lessons, for safety's sake."
"Felix feared for your safety?"
Goody Twoshoes rose and began to pace the room. I noticed the dusty imprint my chair had left on her taut backsides. Whether she was stalling or debating a point of information didn't matter to me. I was too busy enjoying the view. Goody paused by the window and studied nature's arctic blast.
"Felix seemed certain someone was trying to censor his activities. He sensed they might use my relationship with Felix to silence him."
I rocked back in my chair and propped my wing tips on the edge of the desk. "So far what you've described sounds like two accidents, Goody. What makes you believe someone's after you?"
"Francis was the final clue. He was fried to death." Goody blew a long sigh against my window and watched her breath fog the glass.
"Explain fried to death. And who was Francis?"
Goody drew a little design on the glass before turning a profile in my direction. "Francis was a fish, Mr. Case. He was very rare. A priceless freshwater puffer-fish. Felix gave him to me for my fifteenth birthday."
"How was Francis fried?"
"In hot Wesson oil with a few flecks of fennel."
"Why would anyone fry your fish?"
Goody turned around and knocked my feet off the desk, then parked a dangerous curve on the edge. "Someone's trying to upset me. If they can succeed, who knows what I might do? You've got to help me, Case."
It was an effort to drag my eyes from her figure and listen to what she was saying. Or what she wasn't saying. "Who stands to gain the most from your situation, Sweetheart?"
She thought about it, drumming her polished pink nails on a supple thigh.  There's something distracting about a woman in black stockings. "Wanda. She's the only one who could possibly be involved."
"Who's Wanda?" My notes were beginning to look like the membership to a secret club. Felix, flattened by the falling mirror. Fluffy, fallen from her futon and foiled. Francis, French fried with just a hint of fennel. I hadn't seen that many F's on one page since my high school algebra class. I turned the page and waited.
"Wanda Wildchilde. She's a distant relation to Felix, on his step-mother's brother's side of the family." Goody picked up my drinking glass; the one I'd swiped from the Holiday Inn years ago, and drained the last few drops of my whisky. She left a pink smudge of lipstick on the edge. I would never wash that glass. Not that I ever bothered to before.
"Are there any other relatives Felix might have? Someone else who might figure in his will or claims to his estate?"
Goody sighed. "No. There was no one else in his life. Felix favored flings, not wanting to be tied to any one person. He feared anything beyond a brief dalliance would drive a lover's motive toward greed.  Felix showed me his will once. Other than a small amount he would leave Wanda, the bulk of his fortune would belong to me. We are his only remaining relatives."
"Was Wanda aware of the will?"
"I don't know."
"Only one thing to do, Doll." I pushed back my chair and stood. " Let's go talk to Wanda."
Goody bounced off the desk. "Now?"
"Sooner we find out who's behind these accidents, the sooner you can relax and start spending your inheritance."

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