Monday, April 14, 2008

STRINGS - an excerpt


There’s just something about toucans that make me more at ease. I wish I knew what it was. You’d think watching those damn Froot Loops commercials for years I’d be averse to freaky-looking talking birds, but when you take a look at the real thing, they’re just….. soothing. Like an animal wearing a sunset on it’s nose. Just peaceful. Macaws aren’t bad, either. Maybe it’s a color thing. Maybe it’s that they’re all tropical and I’d rather be in the tropics than in my office at any given time of day. That’s probably closer. God knows I’ll never be able to afford to take a vacation in the tropics, so I do the next best thing: I collect postcards. Probably about two hundred in all. I use ‘em as wallpaper. I keep my favorites directly across from my desk on the door. That way I can peacefully ruminate on a big fluffy toucan while waiting for the door to burst open and somebody to attack me with a large blunt object.

I was staring at a toucan, hoping for someone to do just that, but sadly, the man sitting across the desk from me kept talking and nobody came to my rescue. His name was Wally. Sad already. The thinning hair didn’t help his cause. But really, I wasn’t that surprised. You read enough Dashiell Hammett novels and you start to believe that private investigators sit around their dirty office all day long, praying to get a client so they can support their whiskey habit, when all of a sudden a leggy blonde waltzes into their room with a murder case they can really sink their teeth into. Twelve years down the pipeline and you’ve been helping old ladies find their cats, taking photos of overweight ugly people having affairs so that their overweight ugly spouses can cry all over you about it, and listening to jabbering idiots like Wally talk about themselves for hours before getting to the point.

“I mean, that’s all good and everything, I’m thinking, right? I mean, if she wants me, she wants me, but that doesn’t mean I have to like her, am I right? I just go along for the game and, y’know, see if I can tickle her fancy by the end of the night, get what I’m saying? Yeah?” He gave a snorty laugh and winked at me. The snort took me out of my toucan trance and forced me to actually look at him. I returned the creepy smirk he was giving me. He took this as a cue to continue. “And the thing with me, right, is that I’m very goal-oriented. With everything. Even sex. Like Tonight, I said to myself, Tonight, I said, I…… am going to come.”

I waited.

But that was apparently all he had to say on the matter.

“Mr. Long—“

“Wally,” he corrected me, beaming his creepy smile and winking.

“Wally. At the risk of sounding too blunt, why the fuck are you in my office?”

He was a little shocked by that one and I thought I’d maybe start getting somewhere now, but pretty soon that smile crept back and he pointed at me.

“You’re good!” he said. “You caught me off guard! Switched it up on me, right? ‘Cause that’s your job, yeah? Switching it up on people?”

“Actually, my job is to sit here and drink copious amounts of caffeine, staring at my phone until somebody calls or walks in here and needs me to do a job for them. What do you do?”

“I, uh….. well……” He stopped looking at me. His burbling was a sure-fire sign that he was about to get out the information that he was obviously hesitant to divulge. “You know, I work at a bar.”

“You work at a bar. Doing what?”

“Y’know, like, behind the bar. Like, doing behind-the-bar stuff for the bar guys.”

“Jesus. Wally, I’m not a therapist. I’m a detective. Now why don’t you tell me what’s so goddamn important that you want to come in here and spend five hundred bucks a day for me to figure out for you.” Wally stared at me like he’d been slapped. “They call us ‘dicks’ for a reason, Wally.”

“My wife.” See? I knew we’d get around to it eventually.

“Wife, huh?” I asked him as I stood up to refill the empty coffee mug on my desk. “The one you’re goal-oriented with in the sack?”

“She’s….. I think she’s with another woman.”

“Wally, I deal with this all the time and I can—wait. Did you say another woman?” Wally nodded, staring down at the floor. I sat back in my chair. “Huh.” I began having vivid daydreams about how much I was going to enjoy taking pictures for this guy to prove the affair was actually happening. “So, what exactly makes you think she’s with another woman? And Wally, when you say another woman, you mean she’s done this before?”


“You’re not a woman, are you Wally?”

“No! What the hell kind of question is that!?”

“So the ‘another’ was simply you misusing the English language.”

He glared at me with frustration and anger, slowly turning the shade of a well-cooked lobster. “I didn’t come here to get insulted!”

“You didn’t not come in here to get insulted, either. You came to pay me to see if your wife was having an affair.” I like to remind them of the payment thing as often as possible. “I just happen to be a very large proponent of the English language and I don’t like to hear it get misused. To quote Shakespeare, ‘Words spent in vain are seldom scarce.’ I try to remedy that wherever I can.” I took a long sip from my coffee to emphasize this point in a very professorial manner.

“You’re wrong,” Wally said, shaking his head.

“Well, that’s your opinion.”

“No. I didn’t come to have you prove that my wife was screwing another woman. I want you to kill her.”

I hate when people spring surprises on me when I’m mid-sip – I stain more shirts that way. After I wiped the coffee stains from my shirt and the papers that I keep on my desk to make clients think that I work, I looked back at the grimacing, lobster-colored man. “I’m sorry. Did my name get misfiled in Yellow Pages under Hit Men? Where the hell do you get the nerve to come in here and tell me that!? You realize that I’m a Private Detective and hold myself accountable to the law just like policeman? And while I keep this close to the vest, anybody asking this sort of thing is someone I’m morally obligated to report to higher authorities.”

“You’ve done it before.”

Now it was my turn to get flustered and angry. “You get the fuck out of my office. Now.”

Wally stood up. “I’ll pay you double-time.”


“Triple!” He fished in his pocket and pulled out a large wad of hundred dollar bills and slapped them on my desk. I hesitated. A big mistake. “Just do it like the last one.”

I stood and reached across my desk, grabbing Wally by what was left of his hair and slamming his face down onto the fake mahogany wood. “Look, pal, you’re gonna take your money and walk out of here. You’re gonna forget my name, my face and that you ever heard about me. Then you’re gonna go home and do what any self-respecting man who’s wife is fucking another woman would do and ask her if you can watch. Got it?”

“Yeah,” he croaked, his teeth scraping across the wood of the desk.

“Good.” I let him go. “Now get lost.”

He stood up, regained as much composure as a spineless weakling can under the circumstances, and walked to the door. I smiled. It’s not that I enjoy being a bully, but putting people in their place is a right that I think should be exercised daily.

“By the way, dick,” Wally said before walking out. “It’s ‘When words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain.’ If you’re gonna be so fucking pretentious, at least quote Shakespeare right!” He slammed the door, shaking the tinted glass embedded in the wood.

Putting people in their place should be an offense punishable by firing squad.

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