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This week's Featured Author:
Mike Faricy Read an interview with Mike on the Chair to Chair page>>>
Enjoy a sample of some of his books:
I was sitting in the Spot Bar, minding my own damn business, content in a mild and steadily growing alcoholic haze. A client had paid me. The check was enough to cover my overdrafts and fund a night or two of partying.
I saw her come in the side door and look around for fifteen seconds. She was blond, hot looking, thirty something, maybe wearing a little too much makeup. Dressed in a delightfully slutty sort of way. Conversation didn’t stop but heads turned as she walked past. She headed toward an empty stool. There were four on either side of me. Her chest was like the prow of a battleship and plowed a firm, bouncy course down the length of the bar. She passed the first three empty stools and pulled out the one next to me. It was red vinyl and edged in worn duct tape.
“Is anyone sitting here?”
I caught the slightest hint of an accent.
“Not that I can see.”
“You are Mr. Devlin Haskell, right? The private dick?”
She batted her eyes a few times, which at the moment struck me as extremely sexy. Her perfume wafted over me like a plastic dry cleaning bag and forced me to gasp for breath. It was strangely spicy.
“Yeah, that’s me. Although it’s not all that private,” I joked.
Incredibly she smiled but didn’t comment. After a moment she said,
“Mr. Haskell, I’ve been looking for you. Of course the other places were a little nicer than this,” she said, gazing around at the dingy brown, smoke-stained ceiling. Maybe she caught the two bullet holes in the front door now filled with putty and supposed to have been painted sometime just before Obama took office. Maybe it was the 60s-style cheap wood paneling on the walls, or the ode de beer reek of the place. Maybe it was the worn wood-grain Formica tables in the booths or the twenty-watt bulbs in the light fixtures. Maybe it just didn’t matter, I thought, as she sat up straight, spun toward me on her stool, and thrust her death-defying cleavage in my face.
“You were looking for me?” I asked, wondering if my luck had finally begun to change.
“Yes, a friend gave me your name.”
“Really, what can I do for you?” thinking maybe a getaway weekend to a quiet lake, or a bed and breakfast with a jacuzzi in the room, or just your basic tawdry night at my place.
“Well, I hope you won’t think I’m strange.”
At this point Grace, the bartender, stepped in front of us. An experienced little voice inside my head said just smile, finish the drink and get the hell out of here before you get in real trouble.
“Buy you a drink?” I asked.
“Will you have another?”
That experienced little voice whispered no.
I nodded yes toward Grace who rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, okay, I guess I’ll have a double vodka martini, two olives,” she ordered quickly, then smiled at me.
A double, my kind of girl.
“So, I was about to think you’re strange?” I said.
“What? Oh yes. Look, I wanted to hire you, to sort of find someone. I will pay you,” and with that she dug in a small beaded handbag suspended on a chain over her shoulder.
I hadn’t noticed it before but then I’d been otherwise engaged making careful notes as to her physical characteristics.
“Oh, sorry,” she said as she snapped the handbag closed with an audible click and then reached into her front pocket. She pulled out a small wad of hundred-dollar bills. I was actually more amazed there was room for anything thicker than a dime in her pocket. The jeans looked to have been sprayed on over her perfect thighs.
“Here is five hundred dollars I can get you more if you need it.”
“You still haven’t told me who you want me to ‘sort of’ find. A name would help, for starters. Not to mention, you know my name but I don’t know yours.”
Grace brought our drinks, grabbed a ten off the bar from the small pile in front of me.
“Oh yes, sorry, I’m Kerri.” She held out her hand to shake.
“Nice to meet you, Kerri, call me Dev. Your accent?” I asked.
She nodded, batted her eyes innocently, then proceeded to drain nearly half her martini glass.
“Mmm-mmm, that is a very good vodka,” she gasped. “Yes, French, but from a long time ago. I was just a little girl. Dev, I hope you’ll help me find my little sister.”
“Yes, she is called Nikki.”
“Hmm, Kerri and Nikki, sisters. Anyone else in the family? Mom, Dad, brothers, more sisters?”
“No, we are the only ones. My, I mean, our parents passed away eight years ago, maybe six months apart,” she made a quick sign of the cross, in the Orthodox way, reverse order to the Irish Catholic I grew up with. Then she washed it down with a hearty sip of martini.
“Don’t be. My father killed himself, one drink at a time. And my mother was a religious crazy woman. She wore herself out trying to put a stop to anyone thinking of enjoying himself. You know the old question? Which came first, the alcoholic husband or the long-suffering wife?”
“Can’t say that I do, but I know a couple or two it might fit.”
“Oh right, I have not seen her in maybe two months. Not that we were really close or anything, but she hasn’t been home for quite a while as far as I can tell and her phone is disconnected. Her car remains in the same place, in her driveway. I have a key to her house. I went through it but nothing seemed unusual, do you know? It was not trashed or ransacked or some-such.”
“Husband, boyfriend, kids?”
“Not that I know about. She had a boyfriend about a year and a half ago, but he did away with her. Actually he was keeping her on the side and had a regular girlfriend. He married that woman last spring. Nikki read about it in the newspaper.”
“That’s a tough way to find out.”
“Yes. I think he was maybe four years older than Nikki, Bradley Cadwell. Brad the Cad we called him. He is a lawyer now. But I must be honest, she only spoke of him, I never really met him.”
“But a lawyer?”
“Say no more.”
She didn’t, instead she drained her glass and left the olives. With a nod I had Grace mixing a new double just after her empty glass hit the bar. Things become a little bit bleary after that.
I remember checking the rearview mirror constantly on the drive home to make sure she didn’t lose me, although I couldn’t swear to the exact route we took. I remember she could drink vodka like a fish, had a gorgeous figure. She was trimmed as opposed to shaved and had a little Victorian-looking angel with wings, sitting on a cloud tattooed on her right butt cheek. I was too drunk to read the writing that encircled the angel.
I’ve got a bite mark on my left nipple, scratches on my back, my bed’s a mess, and the place reeks of stale spicy perfume. My head is pounding and I just finished reading a note that says she only took a hundred dollar bill from the five she gave me out of “professional consideration”.
She penned her phone number at the bottom of the note, just after she wrote to hold onto her emerald green thong from Victoria’s Secret should I run across it.
I needed aspirin, coffee, and a sauna. Any phone call to Kerri could wait until after those things were accomplished. And ever the professional I made a mental note to find out her last name.
While recovering I sat in a back booth at Moe’s a little after one in the afternoon. Moe’s was my morning office at least three days a week. The earlier sauna and aspirin were working their magic, and the third cup of coffee kept me going until breakfast was delivered. I was just finishing up the last of my hash-browns, dragging the remnants through a slick of heart-stopping hollandaise sauce as I phoned Kerri. Her phone message kicked in, but the voice didn’t sound like her at all.
“Hey baby, thanks for calling. Sorry I’m all tied up at the moment. Leave your name and number, and one of us will get back to you just as soon as we can, bye-bye.”
My guess was Kerri didn’t work for a pediatrician. I checked my watch as the beep sounded to leave a message.
“Hi Kerri, Devlin Haskell here. Please give me a call when you can. I’d like to schedule an appointment so we can review some facts on your case and I can begin my investigation. It’s Wednesday afternoon at one-thirty, you can reach me at ….”
I’ll be the first to admit it was a bit presumptuous to suggest I’d be able to review facts on her case. I really only had four facts; Kerri’s first name, her sister’s name, Nikki, Kerri’s phone number, and five, make that four hundred dollars, cash in advance.
A half hour later I was behind the wheel of my car, debating about starting it up or going back into Moe’s for a couple more aspirin when my phone rang. I glanced at the number coming through like I always did and just like always couldn’t read the numbers.
There was a very long pause on the other end before a female voice sounding somewhat confused said,
“I think I must have the wrong number,” then hung up.
The phone rang again less than a minute later, I did my routine of looking at the incoming number, just like before I was unable to read the damn thing.
“Hello,” I said in what I thought passed for pleasant considering my hangover.
It was the same voice from a minute before, female, young sounding.
“Yeah, I’m calling for Devil.”
“That would be me, Devlin, actually,” annunciating the last syllable in my name.
“What do you need, baby?” sounding decidedly unimpressed with my attempt at correction.
“I need to speak with Kerri, actually. Is she available?”
“She can’t do nothing I can’t do better, honey. You don’t need her, do you?” She hissed the word nothing, suggesting maybe there was a space between her teeth.
“Actually, yes I do, ahhh, need to talk with her. Is she there or is there a number I can reach her at?”
“You a cop?”
“No, I’m not. But look, I’ll call the cops and give them this number unless you have Kerri call me in the next half hour. If I don’t hear from…” Whoever she was, she was so impressed she hung up.
I decided to venture home, grab some aspirin, maybe close my eyes for a few minutes. My mood improved as I considered I could be sitting on the easiest four hundred dollars I ever made.
I had just put my feet up for the briefest of moments when my phone rang. Yes, I looked at the number. No I still couldn’t read the damn thing.
“Oh, no wonder Da’nita thought you were with the police. Do you always answer like that?”
I recognized her voice immediately. A hazy, torrid scene from the previous night replayed in my mind.
“Dev, I’m returning your call, remember? You wanted to set an appointment. I think we should. No drinks please, at least not until we’re finished with the serious business,” she chuckled.
“You tell me where and when.”
“How about your office?”
“My office?” I swallowed, the throbbing in my head returned with a vengeance.
“Yes, that is okay, no?”
It would be okay if I had an office, so I dodged the question
“No, I mean, look, I think I owe you at least dinner, ahh, after last night and all. You free this evening?”
“I can be.”
“Okay, tell you what. You know Malone’s?”
“It is a place on the corner, with the black awning.”
“Yeah, you got it. I’ll make reservations, say seven, seven-fifteen, no alcohol. At least not until we’re done discussing. Sound okay?”
“Great. Oh, Kerri, can you bring some pictures of your sister? And I’ll need her address and, ahh, if you have a spare key to her place that would help too.”
“Maybe I should just bring her.”
“Joking, never mind. I will see you at Malone’s.”
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need a reservation, but phoned anyway.
“Yeah, I’d like a table for two at about seven tonight.”
“Not a problem, you won’t need a reservation.”
“Let me make one anyway, so I look important.”
“A reservation here is gonna make you look important? Jesus.”
“See you at seven.”
It was one of those late September evenings, still warm enough that you could choose between a sweater and a light jacket. A slight breeze rustled the trees and knocked leaves to the ground. The days grew darker earlier, the dark clinging longer in the cool mornings, setting the stage for the inevitable frost just a week or two away and the blanket of dead that would follow with the coming of winter.
Ellen Grady signaled her right hand turn a good two blocks before the Pirate’s Cove parking lot. After a couple of horn blasts she eventually turned, then cautiously drove alongside the timber and white bricked building to the parking lot in the rear. As arranged she parked in the far corner, close to the sidewalk and away from the street light.
At first glance there was really nothing unusual about her behavior, except that she had parked a good fifty feet beyond any of the other cars in the lot. Maybe it made sense had she been driving a Mercedes, a Jaguar or perhaps a BMW. But a black, Dodge Metro, sporting a bumper sticker that said, ‘Ask me about my Honor Student’ seemed a little unusual. It really wouldn’t matter, she’d be dead in ninety minutes
She straightened the laptop on the passenger seat, grabbed the oversized bag that functioned as her purse, left the car unlocked and marched toward the rear entrance illuminated by the sign over the door touting dancing Friday and Saturday night. Once inside she took a deep breath, waited a moment for her glasses to unfog and her eyes to adjust to the dim bar light.
It had been close to ten years since she’d been in any sort of food and drink establishment where she didn’t order off the family menu. It had been closer to fifteen years since she’d been in one alone.
She made her way to an open stool at the bar then glanced at her watch, she was ten minutes early.
“Get you something?” The bartender asked as she was sitting down. He’d tended bar nights, for the past twenty-one months and figured Ellen for the first in a group of school teachers who would order pain in the ass drinks, get a little too loud and run off without leaving a tip.
“Ahh, a Mai Tai?” she replied, wrinkling her nose and shrugging her shoulders.
It figured, god damn it.
“Sure, coming right up,” he smiled.
Snort Hansen was working his way through the outer fringes of cars in the Pirate’s Cove parking lot and coming up empty handed. He was looking for anything of value, CD’s, maybe a cell phone, god forbid he’d come across a purse or a camera. Hell, right about now the way things were playing out he’d consider grabbing a car seat. He kept an eye on the rear door at Pirates Cove, half aware he was probably being watched on some sort of security monitor. But, he was wound so tight after the blow he’d ingested he’d be able to outrun anyone who might come out of the back door after him.
It was cool enough that normal people would be wearing a sweater or maybe a jacket. Snort, oblivious to temperature in his drug addled state, wore a torn olive drab t-shirt advertising the band Virgin Snatch. The shirt round his collar had long ago turned gray with grease and grime. Across the right side of his neck, in a blued, blurring homemade tattoo, the name, ‘SNORT’, ran in an almost childish script. He wore a faded, sweat stained twins cap, pulled down over his face. The hat reeked horribly. But Snort himself smelled so bad that the odor from the hat became lost in the pungent shuffle.
He almost skipped the black Dodge Metro in the far corner, one half of his mind saying look at that piece of shit, why bother? Another half presenting a picture of broken window glass, sparkling, diamond like, over a treasure chest. He twitched involuntarily, wiped whatever was flowing from his nose and made a beeline for the far dark corner.
It had been happening more frequently lately. The shaking, continual runny nose, multiple pictures battling for the main screen playing inside his head, not to mention constantly being followed by some guys he never quite saw, most likely government creeps, maybe Highway Department detectives. He’d been spiraling downward ever since he’d begun snorting Bath Salts, not that he could tell. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept, or for that matter, ate. Not that he cared.
He stumbled alongside the Metro quickly glancing inside, just a fucking radio, no CD player, no smokes, back seat empty. He completed his assessment in a second, never slowing, almost ready to move on when he spotted the laptop on the passenger seat, barely visible in the dark and screaming payday!
Snort ran around to the passenger side, kicked against the window, once, twice, it spider webbed the third time and then the glass collapsed into the front seat following a little quick encouragement from his elbow.
“Mmm-mmm fucking awesome, man,” Snort giggled, ignoring bits of glass slicing across his hand as he brushed the shattered window off the laptop then tucked it under his arm and quickly faded away.
Two businessmen had nodded at Ellen once she had her drink in hand but hadn’t looked at her since. She wondered if they might not be the ones waiting for her to arrive, although they didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave. Twenty minutes later she wasn’t sure what to do, it might be too early to go back out to her car and the last thing she wanted to do was look like she was waiting for something to happen. She took a long, loud, final sip from her drink and set the glass on the bar. She signaled the young bartender then carefully pulled the parasol from her empty glass and stuffed it into her purse.
“Yes mam,” the bartender, smiling, stood with his hands palm down in front of her.
“Really yummy, may I have another please?” Ellen asked crinkling her nose and giggling with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Coming right up,” plastering a smile on his face.
He mixed the drink, shook it an extra fifteen or twenty seconds as he stood in front of her, putting on a show, working for a tip. Then set the glass down, garnished it with two cherries then pulled it away just as she reached for it.
“What’s your favorite color?”
“Is it red or are you just thinking about it?”
“It’s red,” Ellen laughed.
“Okay, nothing too good for my customers,” he said, inserting a red parasol with a flourish and then stabbing two red straws into the side of the pink drink before pushing it in front of her.
“He-he, what do I owe you?” she giggled, rummaging around for her wallet in the massive black bag.
“Four fifty,” he replied, thinking she looks like the exact change type.
“There, there you go,” Ellen smiled, peeling off four ones and placing two quarters into the bartenders palm. Exact change always made her feel so good.
I knew it, he thought. I fucking knew it, you cheapskate.
“Thank you,” he said turning to ring up the sale.
The Lewis brothers, Cantrell and DeEric, were a lot of things, smart wasn’t one of them. Petty thieves, thugs, unsuccessful burglars, sometime pimps, chemically addled, sociopaths, uninformed and hopeless were descriptions more to the point. Tonight’s activities, as they pulled into the Pirates Cove parking lot would do nothing to change the description.
Cantrell drove a late model, nondescript blue van. Nondescript except for the unfortunate fact that he had recently painted his phone number, in roman numerals, on both sides. The words ‘Party Central!’ sort of oozed along in a half script below the phone number, the house paint he had used already beginning to flake and peel.
“That must be it over there in the back of the lot.” Cantrell pointed with his can of malt liquor.
“No shit, man this is gonna be so fucking easy. Drop me off here, I’ll wait until you go around on the street. Soon as I see you, I’ll walk back there, grab it and we’re out of here and two hundred bucks richer.” DeEric whispered, though not sure why he was whispering in the front seat of Cantrell’s van.
“She left the door unlocked, right?” Cantrell, double checking.
“Supposed to, case she didn’t, your man here brought along a hammer, just to make sure.” DeEric lifted the bottom of his hooded sweatshirt, exposing the grip and a steel shaft on the claw hammer tucked into his belt.
“Thinking of everything, my man, thinking of everything.” Cantrell bumped fists with his brother, watched DeEric climb out of the van, then drove off around the block.
DeEric waited the proverbial eternity until he saw the van in the street, Cantrell flicked the lights (actually just one worked) then turned it off and waited along the curb in the dark.
DeEric attempted to look casual as he strolled across the parking lot at an angle. Head down, hood up, baseball cap covering whatever part of his face the hood didn’t, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched. He walked directly toward the lonely black Metro sitting in the far corner.
His first thought, for just a half second was ‘Man, what a clean window’. Then he realized it was broken, the glass knocked out and thought ‘Huh?’ He glanced inside, saw the empty passenger seat covered in glass said,
“Ahhh fuck!” and stood there wondering what to do next.
Eventually Cantrell rasped out in the dark from the curb,
“Come on, man, what’s takin so long? It locked?”
“It’s not here, it’s not fucking here, damn it. Shit, I…”
“Someone’s coming, man,” Cantrell attempted to call over in a whisper. The clicking of the backdoor had attracted his attention, in the light drifting down from above the rear door he could just make out the silhouette of a women.
Major decisions in life are often times pondered. One hopes that with experience and armed with as many facts as possible we examine, weigh, deliberate and eventually arrive at a calculated conclusion. The conclusion, by its very nature may well set off a series of reactions. Should you accept a job offer, purchase a particular home, take out a bank loan, perhaps marry an individual. The consequences to these decisions, good or bad, may be around for a lifetime or even generations.
On the other hand, sometimes decisions are made on the spur of the moment, with little or no time to deliberate, just a split second calculation. Under fire, does a soldier roll right or left. Do you run the yellow light or stop. Do you wear the life vest or hand it to the person next to you. Do you quickly walk to Cantrell’s van and drive off. Or, as DeEric did, for no apparent reason, do you turn and walk back into the parking lot.
Ellen was licking the last remnants of Mai Tai from the corner of her lips, giggling and thinking they must have gone straight to her head, all the while rummaging through her bag for car keys. She wasn’t having much luck and was now elbow deep in her massive bag wondering if she might have possibly left them sitting on the bar.
Her mind wandered, you always heard stories of all sorts of strange people picking up keys like that and suddenly two strangers meet. A full moon, a fireplace, another Mai Tai, who knew what could happen?
She continued toward her car, focused on her bag, oblivious to DeEric walking past her and stopping. She pictured herself sitting in front of a fireplace, a man, younger and with a French accent, held her car keys while he shook a Mai Tai. She watched contentedly as her tabby cat played in front of the fire with a toy. That cat did the darnedest things whenever….
DeEric had walked past her, now watched her staring at the car window. That was all he needed, no laptop and this stupid bitch was gonna blame his ass for a broken window. If nothing else maybe she had their two hundred bucks in her big purse and decided he had better go back and sort it out.
The fireplace, Mai Tai, the young man with the French accent and her tabby cat all disappeared when Ellen saw her passenger window, or what was left of it. They’d promised not to break anything. Promised to just take the laptop if she’d left the door unlocked. Oh those people, those awful, awful people.
“Umm, got yourself a broken window there,” DeEric said coming up almost behind Ellen.
“You weren’t supposed to do that, you were just supposed to take the laptop…” she snapped, then stopped herself, afraid she might have said too much already.
“I didn’t break no damn window, lady. Didn’t see no fucking laptop where it was supposed to be, neither.”
“You just stay away from me,” Ellen’s eyes wide, frightened as the tall, thin, figure in the hoody and baseball cap took a step toward her. She was elbow deep in her bag, again, frantically rummaging for her pepper spray. Odds and ends, a compact case, Kleenex pack, lip stick, dental floss, all bounced onto the parking lot as she flailed around inside the giant bag.
“I said stay away from me do you hear…”
“Look lady, just here to get that damn computer laptop thing from you is all I’m trying…”
“Ahhh, ahhh, help someone” she screamed just as her hand wrapped around the pepper spray.
“Damn, shut the fuck up, bitch,” DeEric screamed as he lunged to grab her.
Ellen pulled her hand out armed with the pepper spray and fired just as DeEric closed on her.
“Ahhh, ahhh,” he screamed, taking a solid blast to the face. At the same time grabbing her by the lapel, shaking her left and right, ripping her top, tearing a bra strap, swinging blindly in an attempt to stop her, getting another healthy dose of pepper spray in the process. Eventually he let go, throwing her off to his right, screaming, rubbing to get the stinging from his eyes.
Ellen twisted and bounced to the ground, then scrambled to her feet, loosing a shoe. In the process of being thrown around she’d gotten a healthy dose of the spray herself and now stumbled screaming toward what she hoped was the street.
“Ahhh, ahhh, help, help, help me!” stumbling off the curb and onto the pavement. Eyes blurry, almost blind she lurched toward a light.
It had all taken less then a few seconds and by the time Cantrell was half way out of his van DeEric had tossed the bitch to the ground and was lying on the hood of the Metro, screaming. The bitch was running for the street, Cantrell jumped back in the van, turned his light on then sped ahead to cut her off.
“Boom,” he didn’t think he was going too fast but she sailed a good ten feet before touching the ground, bouncing off the tail lights of a parked car with an audible thump then crumbling onto the pavement.
Cantrell noticed a porch light up the street flicking on.
DeEric staggered past the glare of the headlight in a blurry eyed rage, cursing. He attempted to blink and shake his sight back while he pulled the hammer from his belt and stumbled toward the crumpled figure attempting to lift her head.
“DeEric don’t you…”
Thunk, a pause before another two quick blows, thunk, thunk.
The first blow sounded almost sharp, like a foot kicking a soccer ball. The two following, softer, wetter, like slapping fresh poured concrete.
“Come on man, we gotta go, leave the bitch, man come on,” Cantrell pulling DeEric off, too late, more porch lights coming on, now a couple of front curtains moving. You couldn’t see it but the air was filling with urgent 911 calls. Cantrell almost pushed DeEric into the van, then ran through the glare of his headlight, jumped behind the wheel and sped off as up and down the street front doors began to open.
By all accounts Alfie Costello had a hell of a law practice in the city of St. Paul, up until the time he was disbarred for trust fund embezzlement. Since then he had never had any visible means of support yet never seemed short of cash.
Tonight he was wearing a lightly starched open collar shirt, a dark sport coat, bifocals hung from a chain around his neck. The chain decorated with five white beads on either side, each round bead with a black letter that spelled out A-L-F-I-E. A full mop of styled white hair curled across his head.
Just now, he hoped, he was charming the pants off of a forty something, glassy eyed blond on the stool next to him. She had displayed a healthy appetite for Captain and Coke and seemed to enjoy Alfie’s tales about his boat washing ashore in Cuba back in 2004.
His tale of danger would pale in comparison to what would happen if his girlfriend, Charlene, found out he was plying a woman with liquor. But she was out for the night with girlfriends, some culture concert Alfie couldn’t care less about, the Schubert Club or the Beethoven Band, absolute nonsense. His interest was more along the lines of the woman next to him beginning to weave slightly.
He was part way through another chapter of his tale, the one about staying up and drinking rum all night with the Harbor Master in Villa Clara when he caught Snort Hansen out of the corner of his eye beginning to drift through the side door.
“Hey, Snort, you know the two rules here. Get the fuck out and stay the fuck out,” the bartender, Jimmy, extending his arm and pointing back out the door Snort had yet to clear. The conversational tone in the grimy drinking establishment, known as Joxer Bailey’s, momentarily dipped to a hum, but came back up immediately once Snort faded from view. The ambience of the place was one of sole endeavor, namely drinking. The patrons all linked by the common bond of failure.
Snort had made eye contact with Alfie just before Jimmy reminded him of rules one and two. After a minute Alfie ordered another round, Jameson for himself and of course more Captain and Coke for the lady. He graciously excused himself to the men’s room, waited three or four more minutes rereading the walls above the ice filled urinal before he exited out the same side door.
Snort was waiting for him back in the dark of the small gravel parking area, next to an unkempt lilac hedge.
“What you got for me Snort, and make it quick, I got some hot action eating out of my hand in there,” Alfie said, looking around over his shoulder making sure they weren’t being watched.
“Great shit man, got these here CD’s, ahh, this here drill, ahh car seat and ahh, I think a computer, give you everything for a hundred bucks, Alfie.” Snort had crouched down and as he rattled off the items he pulled them out of the lilac hedge one by one and laid them at Alfie’s feet.
“What in the hell would I want with a baby seat, come on Snort. What the hell are these, CD’s and no cases?” Alfie had picked up the CD’s, about a dozen of them, holding them up, attempting to read them by the distant alley light.
“Jesus, I never heard of these groups, and no cases, I’ll take a pass. Probably scratched by now anyway. Look Snort, I don’t know what you’ve been ingesting of late, I can only imagine, but you look like shit and this stuff is of absolutely no use to me. A baby seat, give me a fucking break, here,” thrusting the CD’s back almost under Snort’s runny nose.
“Got this drill Alfie, bet it probably works.”
“What, I’m a carpenter now or something?”
“Well, what about the computer?” Snort panicking and unable to hide the fact.
“Does it work?”
“Of course it does, you know me, Alfie.”
“Yeah, that’s why I asked. On second thought, why’d I even bother. Okay look, you can keep all this other shit for your dowry, I’ll give you ten bucks for the computer.”
“Ten? Alfie, its worth at least six, er fifty, ain’t it?”
“Forty bucks Alfie, that’s nothing to you. Come on look at it, come on, Alfie.” Snort lovingly brushed his bloodied hand across the laptop.
“You drive a hard bargain Snort, but……. em, no. Look I’ll give you thirty bucks take it or leave it. It’ll get you enough of whatever it is your on, you can stay high until tomorrow, but you decide now, take it or leave it.” Alfie glanced around over his shoulder again, hoping no one was watching.
“Alfie, come on, forty bucks…”
“No, see you later, Snort,” Alfie took a step away.
“Okay, okay man, Jesus, just yanking a little here, it’s yours, man, thirty bucks.”
Alfie peeled off three ten dollar bills and handed them to Snort, then tucked the lap top under his arm.
“Snort, take this other shit with you, otherwise this joint’ll turn into a dump over night. And think about getting some sleep and maybe some food in you, Christ, you look like shit. Keep it up, you’ll be dead before the snow flies.”
Alfie marched off to his car, looked around for anyone watching, then quickly placed the laptop in the rear of his PT Cruiser then reentered the bar.
“She in the can?” he asked Jimmy the bartender, looking at his waiting drink and the empty Captain and Coke on the bar next to it.
“I think she split, Alfie. She downed that last one without coming up for air as soon as I put it down, then bolted out the front door,” Jimmy gathered up the empty glass, dumped the ice in the sink and placed the glass in a plastic rack waiting for the dishwasher.
“Shit, did she run off with my cash?” Alfie lifted his glass of Jameson, examined the bar beneath, hoping his pile of cash might somehow magically appear.
“Hunh, Jesus, looks like you might have paid for that one in advance, Alfie.”
Mr. Softee on Smashwords $4.99
His newest book (cover coming soon!)
“What did they do?” Mr. Softee screamed his bald head immediately going from beet red to dark purple. “You idiot. Did you hear anything I said? They tried to kill me for god’s sake.”
His real name was Weldon Sofmann. Although he insisted I call him Mr. Softee he was anything but. Screaming made him even more red-faced than normal. His crimson face propped up on the pile of starched white hospital pillows looked even more outlandish. Blips on the monitor screens arraigned alongside his bed jumped accordingly with every outburst.
“I’m telling ya they wanted to murder me. Only those brats showing up on their bikes stopped things from getting any worse.”
“What did the police say?” I asked.
“The cops! You think I trust them? They were probably in on the deal, the bastards,” he screamed.
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. One of the monitors had now switched to alarm mode.
“Oh, these goddamned things,” he reached up to yank the cord out of the monitor.
The young woman introduced to me as Lola sat up just a little straighter in the vinyl visitor’s chair near the end of his bed. Using my acquired skills as a private investigator I deduced she was Mr. Softee’s daughter. She adjusted her blouse with both hands, pinched the cream-colored silk between thumb and forefinger, just above her belt line, then tugged.
Each one of her elegant, long red nails sported a delicate little gold design, and she seemed to function effortlessly despite the long-nail handicap. The tug exposed another inch or two of deep cleavage. She was beautiful, in a sort of peroxide way.
For the first time in twenty minutes she spoke, cautioning Mr. Softee in an exceptionally high, squeaky, little-girl voice,
“Careful precious, remember what Doctor…”
“That quack? He should just stick to his job, which is getting me the hell out of here. Damn it, Haskins, they tried to kill me.”
“Actually it’s Haskell, Devlin Haskell.”
Mr. Softee glared at me for a couple of long seconds.
“Whatever. The bastards tried to kill me. They couldn’t buy me out, couldn’t run me out, so now they finally tried to kill me.”
“Who’s they?” I asked.
“What in the hell am I paying you for? That’s what I want you to find out. You’re supposed to tell me just who in the hell did this.” With a wave of his hands Mr. Softee indicated the bandages wrapped around his left leg. The leg that was propped up on a series of pillows.
“Actually, sir, no offense, but you aren’t paying me, at least you haven’t yet. The first I heard of this was the message from your daugh… from Lola last night.” I nodded at the smiling Barbie doll sitting up straight in the vinyl chair.
She winked back slowly and licked her lower lip.
“So anyway, you haven’t paid me. Not that that’s the point. What makes you think this was intentional? I mean your car was….”
“Car? That wasn’t just a car. That was a Mercedes CL 600. Know what they go for, Haskins?”
“They start at about one twenty. Damn it, grounds right there to shoot the bastards.”
“But what makes you so sure it wasn’t some idiot involved in a simple hit and run?” I asked.
“Simple! Does this look simple to you? I got a damn business to run. Think I can do that while I’m stuck in this nut house? Simple, he says, Jesus I ought to…”
“Thank you, Mister Haskell, we’ll be in touch,” Lola squeaked in her cartoon voice then slinked to her feet. With the six-inch stiletto heels she stood about five foot eight. Her skirt was just a little longer than the black belt and rhinestone buckle wrapped around her slim waist. She extended her right hand. When I took it she rubbed the back of my hand with her left, then raised an eyebrow and flashed a lustful smirk.
Or was I just imagining that?
Mr. Softee looked out the window, unaware. His monitors had returned to a normal pattern.
“Let me see about clearing my calendar, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
“We look forward to it,” Lola smiled, still rubbing the back of my hand, in no apparent hurry to let go. She suddenly tickled the palm of my hand with her finger.
“Just find out who in the hell did this?” Mr. Softee grumbled from his bed, then turned back to the window, clenching and unclenching his jaw.
I didn’t really have a calendar, let alone one to clear. I popped by the Spot Bar, just to see if anyone was looking for me. No one was.
Mr. Softee ruled an empire of ice-cream trucks. A fleet of pink-and-blue trucks every parent in the seven-county metro area had come to despise. The trucks crawled through neighborhood streets playing a chimed version of “Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?” until you wanted to scream.
Children ran back into their homes begging for two or three dollars for one of Mr. Softee’s overpriced ice-cream treats. Frankly, there was a part of me that was more than a little amazed some crazed father hadn’t tried to kill Mr. Softee long before now. I decided to do some checking.
“Economic development,” the voice cooed into the phone.
“Connie Ortiz, please,” I rasped back, hoping I’d disguised my voice.
“Who may I say is calling, please?” You could almost hear the frost forming on the words. I knew it wasn’t going to work, but I foolishly tried anyway.
“I’m calling on behalf of Haskell Investigations,” I said.
“And your name?” she asked, a chilling accusation in her voice.
“Devlin Haskell,” I said grimacing, waiting for the expected blast. I wasn’t disappointed.
“Oh, I didn’t recognize your voice at first, just a cold? Hopefully.”
“Is this Sandy?” I asked, hoping to charm my way past the minefield.
“Who, exactly, did you expect to be answering the phone?”
“I, I wasn’t sure. I thought it might be you, Sandy, but I really didn’t recognize your voice. It has been awhile, you know?”
“Mmm-mmm. Let me see if she can take your call. Hold please.”
I knew the drill, I’d be on hold for three to five minutes, and Connie Ortiz would be unable to take my call. The truth was Sandy wouldn’t even try. Still upset about a minor fender bender I had driving her car a couple years ago.
We had been heading to my place. Sandy way too over served to drive, so I thought I’d help. Under the circumstances, it had seemed like a good idea at the time to just walk away from the accident scene. At three in the morning we quietly staggered away from what was left of the parked car and Sandy’s damaged Toyota. No good deed goes unpunished.
“I’m sorry, she must have stepped out. May I take a message and have her return your call?”
Why bother? It’s the same every time I call. I knew Sandy never tried to reach Connie Ortiz. If I leave a message, Sandy won’t deliver it. It served me right for calling Sandy’s PMS hotline I thought, then said,
“Okay, thanks for trying Sandy. If you could have her call me? She’s got my number. Great to talk…”
Sandy abruptly hung up. I’d have to reach Connie at home later tonight.
“You want another one, Dev?” Jimmy, bartender extraordinaire, nodded toward my empty Leinenkugel’s glass.
“Thanks Jimmy, but I better not. I’ve got a pretty busy day,” I lied.
“Really? You got some business?” Jimmy sounded genuinely surprised.
“Yeah, checking a few things out for Mister Softee, it shouldn’t take…”
“That ice-cream guy?”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
“I could have killed that prick a half dozen different times when the kids were little. It never failed, one of his damn trucks always showed up just before dinner. Damn kids screaming for ten bucks worth of ice cream. Ten bucks, hell, we didn’t have a dollar to our name back then. And that song, still makes my blood boil, that dog song, you know, they got that chime thing going with the damn bells. Son of a bitch always seemed to park right in front of our house. God, I don’t miss those days,” he said shaking his head.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
I made a mental note not to mention Mr. Softee again.
“You know who works for him, or did awhile back, Bernie?” Jimmy said.
“Bernie? You mean the burnout?”
“Yeah, you got him, Bernie Sneen. You know him, right?”
“Not really, except that he’s sort of missing a few cards from his deck.”
Well, yeah, anyway, he was driving one of those trucks last I heard. Might explain the drug use, listening to that damn dog song chiming away, it’d drive anyone nuts.”
“Bernie? They let that guy near kids?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
I found Bernie Sneen in a different bar. There were at least four places he was a daily regular. He was in the third place I checked, Dizzies.
You could say Dizzies was a bit low on ambience, but then that would suggest there might be some. Dizzies was all business, and the business was drinking. The bar itself was no more than twelve feet wide from the back of the bar to the opposite wall. If you were looking for food, casual conversation, a fun night out, or pleasant company, this wasn’t the place.
It was dim, unfriendly, and smelled like the men’s room at a bus station. Bernie Sneen sat three stools in from the front door, bathed in the light of the overhead television displaying a soundless episode of “Skating with the Stars.” He seemed to be muttering to himself as I climbed on the worn vinyl stool next to him.
“Hey, Bernie, long time no see. How’s it going?”
He looked over at me and nodded, his lips moving but involved in some other inner conversation. He put a hand up signaling me to wait a moment.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asked a moment later.
“I’ll have a Leinenkugel’s, give Bernie whatever he’s drinking.”
“Ouzo and Heineken’s,” the bartender replied by way of explanation.
Bernie’s lips continued to move for another minute, until the drinks were delivered. He raised his glass of ouzo, nodded, then took a sip.
“You’re that goofy P.I., right?” he asked after setting his shot glass down.
“Dev Haskell, we’ve talked a couple of times, I think in the Spot,” I said trying to steer things in a little more positive direction.
Bernie nodded, then just stared at his beer.
Eventually I asked,
“Hey, weren’t you driving an ice cream truck for Mister Softee?”
“That bastard,” he said shaking his head.
“Yeah, Mister Softee. You still driving for him?”
“Nah, bastard laid me off. Didn’t like me drinking while I was driving, I guess. Jesus, what was I supposed to do, crawling along them streets about two miles an hour.”
He was quiet for a minute or two, then looked over at me and grinned idiotically. For the first time I noticed his glazed eyes blinked furtively in time to a slight facial twitch.
I nodded, suggesting he actually made some sense.
Bernie was one of those guys that no matter how you tried to clean him up he always looked like he needed a bath. At about six foot one he was two inches taller than me. I put his weight at forty pounds less, no more than one fifty. He had dark, thinning hair, too long and slicked back against his skull. Not so much a particular style as it was just unkempt. Sallow skinned, he was in need of a shave and sported an Adam’s apple the size of a golf ball on his scrawny neck. Not what you’d call attractive.
“They catch you eating all the ice cream?” I joked.
“Yeah right,” again with the idiotic grin. I noticed a dark hole on the left side of his mouth, about four teeth back.
“You ever deal with Mister Softee, himself?”
He glanced at me, I was quickly becoming an irritant now that he had finished the Ouzo and was more than halfway through the beer I’d purchased.
“That bastard? I had to talk with him when I got my route, then the night post.”
Bernie looked over at me, twitched a few times then stared straight ahead and sipped his Heinekens. I was definitely an annoyance.
“What do you mean, night post?”
“Look I don’t want to talk about it, if you don’t mind.”
“You work for the cops?” he asked, then proceeded to drain his glass.
“The cops, me? No. Just curious about the night post thing.”
“And I said I didn’t want to talk about it. Jesus, what is it with you?”
“Look Bernie, I…”
“Nice chatting,” he said, and jumped off his stool, twitched at me briefly, then quickly walked out into the sunshine, hands thrust deep in his pockets. I noticed his shoes, unlaced black high tops faded almost gray, with bright red laces. Bernie was ever the trendsetter.
“Get you anything else?” the bartender asked clearing away the empty shot glasses, then looked at my untouched beer.
“No thanks,” I said shaking my head. I took a cue from Bernie, climbed off the stool, and went out the door. I figured my beer wouldn’t go to waste; the bartender would probably serve it to the next person who came in.
I called Connie Ortiz at home a little after 7:00 that night. We’d dated a few years back until Connie came to her senses and dumped me, although it was really one of those mutually agreed decisions. We got along well, joked when we ran into each other, which wasn’t too often.
“Hi, Connie, Dev Haskell.”
“Hey, you got a minute to chat?”
“Yeah, but really not much more than that, kind of crazy you know. But go ahead, what can I do for you?”
“I wanted to ask you about a business. In fact, I tried to reach you at your office earlier.”
“Today? I didn’t get a message.”
“Well, I spoke to Sandy, she…”
“Sandy? Oh, yeah, well, I think she’s still upset about that reckless driving charge a few years back.”
“Yeah, I know. I got that pled down for her Jesus, they were going to charge her with a DWI and leaving the scene. Under the circumstances she could have been looking at some jail time not to mention losing her license. She just can’t seem to get it through her head that…”
“Well, I don’t want to get into it, but you know she maintains she wasn’t even behind the wheel.”
“Yeah, I know. You’re right we probably shouldn’t get into that.”
I’d always wondered since Sandy had passed out, how could she possibly remember I’d been behind the wheel?
“So, how can I help you? I’m guessing you didn’t call about Sandy’s driving record.”
“Oh yeah, look I’m working on a project for a client. Can you tell me anything about Mister Softee?”
“Mister Softee, the ice-cream trucks?”
“Who’s your client?”
“I’m going to have to interject client privilege here and not say.”
“Okay, I guess. Mister Softee, well, they’re pretty big. I’d guess they employ over a hundred people in this town.”
“What about competition?”
“Yeah, is Mister Softee the only show in town? I’ve sort of been out of the ice cream demographic for about thirty years.”
“I can think of a couple of competitors, but they’re really small. Competitors in name only, and I can only think of one now that I mention it. I don’t know, but I would guess Mister Softee has about 99 plus percent of the market.”
“You ever dealt with him?”
“I’ve met him a couple of times over the years. Wendell something.”
“Weldon,” I corrected.
“Yeah, that sounds right. Like I said, I’ve met him but not what you might call dealt with him. I would say he is a very focused individual.”
“That’s a nice way to put it.”
“That’s why I’m in the position I’m in.”
“You know of any group or individual who might wish him harm?”
“Off the record?”
“No, to answer your question directly. Any competition he has, on the ice cream level, would be small players. I can’t see anyone doing something illegal if that’s what you mean. On the other hand, as I said, he is a very focused individual. I hear he can be rather difficult, ruthless may be a better term. Of course there have always been the rumors of the gambling thing.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard some of those rumors, too. What do you hear on that front?” I asked, wondering gambling?
“Well, its always been alleged he’s involved in gambling, but the flip side of that is the term ‘alleged.’ To my knowledge nothing has ever been even remotely proven. I think there may have been a handful of incidents with some of his drivers, but then again, what sort of person wants to drive an ice-cream truck for a career?”
I conjured up a brief image of twitching Bernie Sneen.
“I would expect he has to be fairly careful during the hiring process. Back ground checks, credit checks, that sort of thing,” Connie continued.
Another image of Bernie popped into my mind.
“Okay, but Connie, to your knowledge no one offers a competitive threat to him.”
“A competitive threat to Mister Softee, for ice cream? No, I can’t imagine anyone providing much of a threat, it would be so expensive just to get started, let alone the overhead required with today’s fuel prices. I mean he loses six months a year just with bad weather. I just can’t see it. In fact, it’s nothing short of amazing that he’s done as well as he has. You know who you should talk to is the Scoop people.”
“Over on the West Side, Double or Giant Scoop, something like that. I think they have a couple of trucks. They might be able to answer some of your questions. But now that I think about it, Mister Softee has a fleet, and the only competitor I can think of in town has two trucks. Anyway, give them a call, Staschio Lydell or Lydella, something like that. Hey look, Dev, I’ve gotta run. Great chatting, give me a call if I can be of any more help.”
“Yeah, I’ll call Sandy.”
“Well, that might not be the best idea, but then again you can’t really blame her.”
The Giant Scoop ice-cream company was located halfway down the Ohio Street hill, just across the High Bridge on the West side of St. Paul. The corporate head quarters, such as they were, were located in what looked to have been a neighborhood filling station sometime in the past. It must have been a distant past, the building was built in the late 1920s.
It was brick, painted white with faded blue trim. The roof was covered with red glazed tiles. There were two large overhead doors on the right side, one of which stood open. You could almost see a gas-station attendant waiting to fill your car, wash your windows, and check your air pressure.
Two yellow ice-cream trucks emblazoned with giant ice-cream cones on three sides and a triple-scoop-cone hood ornament were parked out front. Two dark-haired young women, in cutoffs and T-shirts, were loading the trucks with boxes of ice-cream treats.
“Hi, I’m looking for Staschio,” I said, following up with my charming smile.
“He’s not here,” one of the girls said. Neither one stopped stacking the cardboard boxes into the rear of the trucks, they must have missed my smile.
They looked alike, and I guessed they might be sisters.
“Do you expect him anytime soon?”
“Not really,” the one closest to me said.
She stopped what she was doing, wiped her hands on the dark green apron around her waist, then stuck out her hand to shake.
“Sorry, I’m Jill, that’s my sister, Annie.” She nodded at the girl still loading boxes into the back of the other truck.
“Dev Haskell,” I said shaking her hand. She had a firm grip, dark brown eyes, a bright smile.
“Hey,” Annie said, nodding in my direction, but not stopping her work.
“Our grandfather isn’t here, and we’re kinda busy getting ready for the day. What’s this about?”
I took out a couple of my business cards, handed them to Jill.
“Haskell Investigations, Devlin Haskell, private investigator,” she read, then looked up at me.
Annie stopped loading ice cream and took one of the cards from Jill.
“Is there some kind of trouble?”
“No, nothing like that. I’m just trying to learn more about the business and thought your grandfather might be able to help.”
“Learn more about the ice-cream-truck business? Why?” Annie asked.
“Yeah, what on earth for, thinking of making a career change or something?” Jill laughed.
“No, just curious about what you do.”
“Look we sell twelve different ice-cream treats, usually to kids,” Jill said pointing at a menu painted on the back of the truck.
“We pay too much for product, pay too much for gas and taxes. Get raped by the city for a license. And by the time we repair whatever the latest breakdown will be on these trucks we have just about enough left over to pay ourselves almost a dollar an hour.”
I looked from Jill to Annie.
“That’s about right,” Annie said, “except I think you’re a little high on the hourly wage part.”
“Tell you what, you got the time you can ride along with me today. That’ll answer just about any questions you might have,” Jill said.
“Ride along with you? You mean in the truck?” I asked.
“No, on top of it. Yes in the truck. You up for it?”
“Well, I don’t know I got a couple of other appointments that…”
Jill glanced over at the Lincoln Town Car I’d parked on the street, dark green, except for the light blue door on the passenger side. Then there was the slightly buckled hood where a brick wall had jumped in front of me one night.
“Yeah sure, appointments. You don’t have shit to do, do you?”
“Come on, I could use the company.”
Annie was shaking her head as she wheeled the empty cart back into one of the garage bays. She pushed a button to automatically lower the overhead door and walked back to her truck.
“I’ll catch you two later,” she said.
“So?’ Jill asked me.
“Yeah, I guess, sure, why not?”
Jill didn’t have a chime that played some obnoxious child’s song on her truck. Instead there was a bell that rang every thirty seconds. I wasn’t sure which was worse.
“This bell-ringing all day would drive me nuts,” I said, raising my voice to be heard over the damn bell.
Jill smiled and shook her head.
“Believe it or not you get used to it. Tell you the truth, I don’t even hear it anymore. Although, it is nice to get home at the end of the day to peace and quiet with maybe just the clock ticking.”
She was driving slowly along a residential street. Kids waved, you could see them running into the house theoretically to ask for money. Occasionally moms and kids flagged us down. Sometimes kids on bikes followed us. Despite Jimmy the bartender’s reaction, everyone I watched seemed genuinely glad to see us.
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Just across the alley from the shop, it was my folks’ house. We grew up there. You?”
“St. Paul, close to the Cathedral.”
Jill nodded, then pulled to the curb as three kids waved currency and jumped up and down excitedly. Over the course of a few hours I handled the sales. Cherry and Root Beer Ice Bergs seemed to be big sellers. But then of course there was the always popular Fudgesicle. Eventually I got around to my client.
“So how do you guys stack up against Mister Softee?”
“You’re not a fan?”
“Let’s just say no, and leave it at that.”
“So he’s the big success everyone is gunning for?” I asked.
Jill looked over her shoulder at me. I was sitting sideways on a card table chair, leaning against a cooler filled with all the ice cream treats.
“Not really. I’m sure that jerk doesn’t even know we exist. I mean we’ve been out here for what?” she checked her watch. “Over four and a half hours. You’ve seen the amount of business we’ve done and for a weekday this has been pretty good. I oughta bring you along more often, you’re good luck,” she smiled.
“Have you ever met the guy?”
“You mean Mister Softee, himself? No. He and my grandfather started out as partners, about a thousand years ago. Grandpa never talks about it, but he got screwed somehow. We just do our deal over here, in this neighborhood. Mister Softee covers the rest of the world,” she half laughed, then pulled over for a fat kid at the curb.
At no surprise the kid knew the menu by heart.
“Give me a banana Ice Burg, a chocolate ice-cream sandwich and a Giant Dilly bar, please.”
It took me a moment to total things up. The Dilly Bar threw me, it was the first one I’d sold, two twenty-five each. The kid waited, drumming his fat little fingers on the counter impatiently, while I attempted to total things up in my head.
“That’ll be six dollars and seventy-five cents,” I said cheerily.
The kid glanced down at the exact change he’d laid on the counter almost five minutes earlier, six dollars and fifty cents. He shot a fake smile in my direction, snatched up the ice-cream treats, and fled the scene.
“That’s what that kid needs, more ice cream. Want me to go after him?” I asked watching him waddle around the corner of a house.
“No, he’s a good customer, besides, it was six fifty not six seventy-five,” Jill said as she pulled away from the curb.
“So, you were telling me your grandfather was in business with Mister Softee.”
“That’s the story. I guess there was some sort of a falling out. I don’t really know anything about it, we just do our own thing. Is that who you’re working for, Mister Softee?”
“Me, Mister Softee? What makes you think that?”
“I don’t know, maybe because it’s about the fourth time you’ve mentioned him. Maybe because I can’t think of who else would be interested in our business and now that you’ve seen it you can report back to your boss that there isn’t that much of it.”
“He’s not my boss,” I shot back.
“So you are working for that creep. I should have known. What? I suppose he’s gonna move a couple of trucks into our area, Jesus, you jerk. I’ll take you back. I’m sure you have a report to give him just as soon as possible.” I rocked back against the cooler as she accelerated down the street.
“Hey, calm down, Jill. No, it’s nothing like that at all. If you want the truth, I’ll tell you, no need to get all offended,” I said stalling for time, doing a quick reassessment.
“Sure you will,” she said, and sped up even more, clearly not convinced.
“I just met the guy the other day. He hired me to find out who attempted to kill him.”
“What, someone tried to kill that piece of poop, fantastic!”
“Sorry to be the one to break the news, I can tell you’re distressed.” I said.
“You just made my day. Wait till I tell Annie, she’ll freak.”
“Yeah, well the bad news is, I don’t think that’s what happened.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mister Softee got pretty banged up in a car accident, broke a leg or something. He’ll recover, but…”
“He’ll recover, but I think it was just a hit and run that just happened to hit. I can’t believe anyone was out to get him.”
“Why not, the guy is an absolute butt hole, ask anyone,” she said.
“Hey, that seems to be the common perception, I get that part. But his being dead, would that improve your business any? If he had been killed, would you or your sister sell anymore ice cream today as opposed to last week at this time?”
“So, even though the guy is a jerk, and that seems to be the universal conclusion. I don’t see anyone in the ice-cream business crossing over the sane lane trying to kill the guy.”
She glanced back at me for a long moment, then returned to her driving, shaking her head.
“You better get your facts straight. I wasn’t thinking about his ice-cream business.”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you work for the guy?” she asked.
“Yeah, sort of, I already told you that.”
“You better check with the cops. I know, I know, they can’t prove anything, but we have a pretty good idea of what the profit margins are in this business. Lose a dollar a day and make it up on volume, it just doesn’t add up.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“What I’m saying is, here we are. You can get out here, thanks for riding along. Sorry it didn’t work out better, but you should have been up front with me,” she said, then pulled alongside my Lincoln, stopped, and stared straight ahead.
“Look Jill, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” I said.
“That’s okay, I’m not upset, honest, but I’ve got to get back to work so you better hop out.”
“Okay, its been interesting, thanks for your time and the help,” I said exiting. I was halfway out the rear door when she accelerated and sent me stumbling into the street. By the time I was on my feet she’d rounded the corner, and the clanging bell grew fainter and fainter.
“No sir, like I said before, they’re gone. He checked out sometime last night. I came in this morning and learned they’d left.”
I was talking with the station nurse on the wing where Mr. Softee had been. She didn’t seem all that upset that he was off her floor.
“He couldn’t have healed up that quickly, could he? I mean, I thought he had a broken leg. You guys had him immobilized with some cushion things, and he was on medications or painkillers or something.”
“I know. Actually a broken ankle, by the way. We recommended he not leave, but if the patient insists on wanting to check out, well at some point, there’s nothing we can do about it. Can’t say that we tried too hard to change his mind,” she added, the disdain in her tone apparent.
“Difficult couple. Look, I’ve got twenty-seven patients on this wing I’m responsible for. All of them have needs, questions, medications, scheduled procedures. I can’t station myself at any one door and wait to be at someone’s beck and call. That would be rather unfair now, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“So the Sofmanns decided that they would receive better care if they hired someone in their home. They’re probably right, provided there aren’t any complications and they employ qualified individuals. You have to have people who know and understand what should be done. There are inherent risks on all sides of that equation,” then she gave me a perfunctory nod.
“Will there be anything else, Mister Haskell?”
“No, you’ve been quite helpful. Thank you.”
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