His blog over at Terrible Minds keeps me entertained, and while I use many of his weekly writing prompts to fuel my inner-muse, I don't always post and link-up. This week though, my piece feels polished enough to share.
Warning: This is the beginning of a story, not a complete story, but the seed of it has been floating around my mind for a while. Thank you Chuck for giving me the kick it needs.
We were given 1500 words this week, along with 2 lists of must-have choices. Follow the links for the original lists. I decided to go with 1. a mysterious picture, and 2. a pair of detectives. The result is my attempt at Raymond Chandler-esque noir.
I offer the following in response:
The Tamsind Affair
The door opened and in walked a pair of forever legs and dangerous eyes. Gloved hands unclasped a beaded handbag and withdrew an old photograph from its shallow confines. She didn’t bother with introductions. The picture, she snapped on my desk. “My sister is missing, Mr. Bishop,” her voice was honey. “I am prepared to pay twice your standard fees to find her and bring her home.”
It was difficult to break away from her gaze. “Please have a seat, Miss – er?”
She didn’t sit. “There’s a substantial bonus in it if she returns in three days.”
My partner leaned against his desk, eager, no doubt salivating. I couldn’t blame him. We were three months behind in rent and owed twice that to our secretary. “A photograph isn’t much of a lead, Ma’am.”
She gaze twisted and her chin followed on delay. She lashed my partner with a sharp tongue. “I was not speaking to you, Mr. Pratt. Your opinion is unsolicited and not required.”
Her attention returned to me. I sighed and inspected the scene in the photograph. It was a high class studio print, a boudoir pose popular with gals sending cheer to their soldier boys. The subject looked sixteen, maybe, but worked a pout like she was born with it. She had the same pair of dangerous eyes partially obscured by a Veronica Lake hairstyle. Strategic shadows only just protected the girl's modesty, and I felt like a peeping tom. I returned Veronica to my desk. “No dice.”
The temperature dropped and the space between us iced over. “Mr. Bishop, if you’re expecting to haggle for better terms, I assure you—“
“No, your terms are acceptable. I said ‘no dice’ to the case, not the money.” My partner twitched. I shot him a look. The last thing I needed was for him to open his stupid mouth. Max Pratt was a fair detective, but a lousy partner, often reacting to situations with the wrong brain.
She sat, flipping her fox stole across her shoulder. “Very well, three times your standard fee.”
“Hold it, Max,” I held up a hand to the charging bull. “Lady, you can make it five times my standard fee or eighteen times my standard fee. The answer is still no.”
“Because you’re a liar.”
She flinched. Her sister’s pout graced her perfect mouth.
I had her attention now. I leaned forward. “Look, lady, I don’t trust you. Now, my partner, he doesn’t trust you either, but you’re offering us enough bread that he's itching to overlook his misgivings. But me, I'm not buying it, for any sum. I’d ask the real reason you walked through this door of all the doors in a city of private dicks, but you’re not the sort to give answers. I don’t think anyone has ever questioned you. I don’t think you’ve ever heard the word no either.”
Her cold expression had yet to melt. “So, I’m a liar and I’m spoiled. Is that all you’ve got?”
“No, but I wouldn’t want to wound your delicate ears.”
“Very well, Mr. Bishop. I will play your game. What is it I am lying to you about, I wonder? I don’t recall giving you details of any kind. Unless you believe she isn’t my sister.”
“No I see the family resemblance.” I reached for my pack of Lucky Strikes and lighter. “The lie is in the money. Your sister ain’t missing; you just don’t know where she is and she’s just not coming home. You need to someone -- maybe us, maybe your parents -- someone to believe that you love your sister. That you want her back. That you’re willing to do anything in your power to see her safe. The reality is, it really wouldn’t bother you to see her on a slab in the morgue. Am I warm?”
I paused to light a cigarette and savored the instant burn in my lungs. “That good family name you’re trying to protect isn’t helping either. It’s a big, rich, name. The sort of name that comes with well-known and very old and deep pockets. So you come to the wrong side of town, gambling that we don’t know who you are, so we can make discreet inquiries that don’t involve the police dragging their muddy boots through your rhododendrons.”
“Ah but there’s where you’ve slipped up,” she leaned forward and mocked a whisper behind her hand. “We wouldn’t dream of keeping rhododendrons.”
“Well, I am from South-Side, I wouldn’t know an orchid from an aphid.” I blew a ring of smoke towards the ceiling. Max gave me the evil eye. I could be mean, throw her to him, let him deal with the yes ma’amin’ that comes with the expensive zip code. “So, no thank you, Miss Tamsind. Since you let yourself in, I trust you can see yourself out.”
She smoldered, her ice exterior yielding to subtle cracks, “You know who I am.”
Max was impressed too: I felt the weight of his glare shift and he gaped like a codfish. “Not formally, no. I'm sure you're aware I don’t get many invitations to your kind of parties. I do, however, pay attention when Miss Brown reads the society page aloud in the mornings. Your engagement was announced last week, no the week before. And this week, a small, one-line correction to the wedding date, placing it further out. So, your fiancé Michael, Michael, something two-faced ran off with your baby sister.”
Whether I was right or not, I struck a nerve. She rose and collected the photograph. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Bishop. I will not require your services after all.”
My under-paid, overworked secretary, Miss Betty Brown exploded through the door. “Yes! Mr. Bishop will take your case. And you needn’t worry about reputations. He’s the very soul of discretion.”
They usurped me, Max and Betty. I took a long drag out of irritation while Max and Betty renegotiated terms with Miss Gayle Tamsind. Miss Tamsind was of the Smithsfield Tamsinds that perched atop North Hill in their alabaster shrines to the gods of wealth and excess. The same Smithsfield Tamsinds that settled in Smithsfield two hundred years ago and made a fortune in textiles and tobacco. Miss Tamsind’s ancestral roots may have been populated with hard-working, blue-collar farmers, but the present day branches hadn't possessed calluses since the tree was planted. Smoke ring after smoke ring wisped to the ceiling while I simmered in my own skin. Max made a mistake of course. My gut told me there was a storm coming, and that this dame was more trouble than she was worth.
“One and a half times his usual fees,” I heard Miss Tamsind say. “And you can keep the photo. Unfortunately, the studio made several copies at Delilah’s instructions.”
“Delilah?” The name rang familiar. I put my cig out in the ashtray, the set-up becoming clear. “Max, you’re a damn fool if you take this case.”
The comment earned me three extremely toxic looks.
I ignored them. After gumshoeing for a decade, I learned a few things about human nature. Poor girls ran from home hoping to find something better. Rich girls ran from home because they can’t wait to get anything worse. And if Delilah Tamsind was the Delilah Black that checked into Ricardo’s Club for Gentlemen last week, worse was exactly what Delilah was going to find. And what that meant for Michael Two-Face, the fiancé-on-hold, I didn’t know, but I knew damn sure I didn’t want to find out. I rose and crossed the room to my coat rack to grab my hat and coat. Pushing by Betty, I called out over my shoulder, “Don’t forget to lock up.”
“Where are you going?” Betty followed me out to the closet-sized reception area. “Why are you being so beastly?”
I took her aside and whispered. “Listen Betty, Max and I are a great many things and none of them good. You're too good for us. I know we don’t deserve your loyalty. I’ll find some other way to pay you. I promise. Double even, what I owe you, but please get Max to see reason and drop this case. There’s no way this is going to play out to a happy ending.”
She folded her arms and squared off to me, her eyes narrowing behind her budget eye-wear. “This fear talking? This could open doors for us in the right society. You won't have to struggle anymore.”
I shook my head. “Gut instinct, Betty. That dame – this case, it’s trouble.”
"We need that money, Bish." Betty sighed, her chin drooping to her chest. "But all right. I’ll convince Max to drop the case.”
“Thanks, Bet.” I kissed her forehead. “Trust me. It’s for the best.”