The morning was so bright; I almost thought it had a beef with me. Nature should offer cloud cover until 10 am for all of the night owls. To be fair, I had yet to surmise the time and typically call morning whatever time I manage to wake up.
I reluctantly eased up from the well-worn couch in my office. The smell of the leather always brought me an odd sense of comfort. Perhaps it was the sweet reminder of a more prosperous time tapping on my mind’s shoulder. Somehow, a quilt I previously took as payment from a cash-poor but lovely woman covered me. I shudder to think how my pants managed to be laid out over the back of my office chair.
As I made my way to retrieve my pants, I could see the silhouette of Linda, my secretary, in the lobby, if you dare call it that. More people have fit into a campus phone booth I bet. She worked harder to find me work than I did to complete the work that she found for me. It was mostly trivial stuff that even a desperate jerk like me felt was beneath my dignity. To be clear, I made rent this month, barely, by finding some old lady’s cat. To be even clearer, I took the case, walked down to the corner, lit up a smoke, and the crazy cat walked right up to me. I still accepted her money; I even got a bonus. Truthfully, I thought I’d get a second quilt out of that deal.
“Chet, are you decent? There’s a woman here to see you,” announced Linda.
Damn them both for preempting the first cup of coffee of the day. “Gimme two minutes, sugar,” I replied as I hastily fumbled into my pants. Speaking of sugar, I glanced over at the fire escape and gave further consideration to that cup of coffee.
“Chet, did you hear me?” she asked, knocking on my door as if I owed her money. I probably did, though.
“Hold on,” I said desperately. I had no clue how ragged I might have looked so I tried my best to comb my hair by running my hands through it a few times. I couldn’t do much about a shave, but a shot of whiskey for me seemed better than a shot of morning breath for a potential client, at least that’s what I told myself as I poured it. I sat down behind my desk and downed the whiskey. “Come in,” I announced as I shuffled the whiskey bottle and glass into a drawer. I wasn’t fooling anybody save me.
Linda opened the door and gestured for the woman to enter. Once she took a few steps, Linda scowled and pointed her index finger at me, which seemed eerily long and foreboding at that moment. The woman stopped after a few steps as if to give me a chance to drool over her. They always do that, the cute ones. Her skin was far too creamy and delicate to withstand even a few minutes of this wretched sunlight, I thought. Oddly, her flaming red hair was a brilliant contrast despite my previous thought. Beyond that, she was so beautiful with her sculpted cheekbones and celestially orchestrated figure that I instantly found her annoying, because I was sure I had sized her up in a flash.
I did not bother to stand up; I still needed my coffee. “I’m Chet Darby, Private Detective. What can I do for you, miss?” I asked. I could sense that she picked up on the lack of enthusiasm in my tone so I motioned for her to sit down hoping that would prove sufficient distraction.
“I’m not sure how to begin. I’ve never done this before,” the woman replied. Her voice was slightly seductive even though I believe she came by it naturally. Part of me hoped that she sounded like a diseased baboon that somehow learned to speak. That much perfection always leads to trouble, which is evidenced by her presence alone.
“Well, usually a client tells me about a problem or task that they need help with, then they lie about it making my job harder, we agree to terms, and I get to work,” I explained sarcastically yet accurately, in my defense.
She was shocked by my frankness. “Are you always so callous?” she asked.
It was a fair question. “No, sometimes I am much worse,” I joked. She giggled cutely, of course. The joke’s on her because there is often plenty of truth hidden behind a jester’s whimsy. “Talk to me.”
She took a deep breath. “I go to a bar nearby several times a week after work. Sometimes we stay out until dark,” she began to speak but paused for a second deep breath. “Somebody has been following me home, and I think it’s the same man, a man from the bar,” she said timidly.
I enthusiastically nodded, because it seemed simple to me. “That’s good,” I said, and she appeared to take it the wrong way. “What I mean to say is that I can help you,” I clarified, which repopulated a smile to her face.
“Thank you, but how will you help?” she asked, her smile going as easily as it came.
“That’s easy. What time do you get off from work?” I asked.
“I came here as soon as I got off,” she replied.
My confusion transformed to shock. “Uh, what time is it?” I asked and winced at the upcoming response.
“It’s almost 5:30 pm,” she replied, which was admittedly hard for me to hear.
It was my turn to take a couple of deep breaths. “Okay, here is the plan,” I announced though I felt quite a blow to my credibility, even as a social crusader for cats. “We will go to the bar together, and you can point him out to me. I’ll get a feel for him and then we will decide whether we leave together or you lure him out for me. What do you think?”
She seemed relieved, I can only assume, by my decisiveness. “That sounds perfect. I could use a drink,” she replied.
I stood up and realized that I had no shoes on, was wearing my undershirt, and had failed to zip my trousers. “Can you wait with Linda for a minute while I freshen up?” I asked. I would have been embarrassed had I not lacked the presence of mind. She graciously obliged, and I quickly threw myself together.
I burst through my office door to find Linda and the client looking at me as if I were a Martian. I instantly realized that I didn’t even bother to ask her name. Luckily, I had a plan. “Did you get all of her paperwork in order?” I asked Linda, and she promptly handed it to me. I managed to pull her name from the papers, but Linda had me pegged from the start, as she always does. “Emily, are you ready to do this?” I asked, hoping that I didn’t over-enunciate her name.
I offered her my arm, and we briskly set off. As we entered the hallway outside my office, I quickly noticed the elevator was out again. Luckily, I couldn’t afford anything higher than the second floor. When we hit the stairs, the sound her heels made against the floor echoed an unknowable truth, inexplicably filling me with dread. I could not help but stare at her heels, hosiery, dress, and even her hat. She looked back at me, and her smile seemed to enchant all of my worries into submission.
Once we got outside, I began to look for a taxi. I looked to my left and then my right. Fortunately, there was a taxi parking just down the street. We hurried after it but the cabby got out and opened the trunk, so we slowed down. The passenger got out and retrieved a suitcase. By then, we were standing right behind the taxi. I stopped with the intention of hiring the cab, but Emily kept walking and left my arm. As I turned, I saw yet another scowl, this time of the sinister variety, peering back at me. Before I could speak, Emily blackjacked me with a force that I’d swear she hadn’t the capability.
My vision was blurring, but I had just enough sense to witness the cabby and his passenger carry me while my legs dragged across the sidewalk. The scraping noise that my shoes made against the concrete seemed to echo with a similar profundity as Emily’s heels had upon the stairs. They unceremoniously heaved me into the trunk, and the last thing I saw was the cabby’s fist before the darkness claimed me.
When I finally began to regain consciousness, I thought the echoes were coming back for me. As my vision cut through the blurriness, my other senses followed. I could hear the roar, feel the heat, and smell the gasoline. If I wasn’t already amidst the fires of Hell, I need not wait long.
Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.
“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”