Ain’t that just like a dame? I think to myself with a sardonic grin.
I am leaning with my best devil-may-care abandon against a bar. My fedora is on my head, like I was born wearing it. My trench coat is grey. One hand rests in my pocket. People are probably wondering if I have a gun in there. Nah. Just my tootsie roll.
I look like a private dick because that’s what I am. Like I said: secrets are my business. I am a proud dick. I am a good dick…so good I just heard you snicker. Spooky, huh?
I am standing in the Airport Ramada. I have just finished a half pound cheeseburger and as I study my quarry, I am trying to burp through my nose so as not to attract unwanted attention. Since the burger had onions in it, this is making my eyes water. I am pretty sure this never happened to Bogie.
I’ve reviewed the file given to me by my mysterious green/blue eyed client. My instructions are clear: follow him. Report back via phone or internet each day. Describe exactly who he is with and what he does.
“You want to tell me why you want to know, toots?” I’d asked.
“Stop calling me that,” she’d replied.
“Why’s that, toots?” I asked. I could tell she enjoyed the banter on a level she wanted to keep private.
“I don’t like it,” she said, coyly.
“Whatever you say, toots.”
She’d rolled her eyes at that. Pretty eyes, I noticed.
“Who is this man, toots?” I inquired.
“I’d rather not say,” she replied.
“Why do you want him followed, toots?” I inquired.
“Look. I really don’t like that name,” she said. “I know you think it’s cute—“
“Nah,” I said, exuding with boyish charm like a junkyard dog exudes mean. “I just call them like I see them.”
She waited and I waited. Then I added “Toots.”
She shook her head and opened her mouth. I think she was about to say something soft and tender – but chose not to give in too easily and drew her lips together in a tight pale line…not a good look on her.
“I’d rather not tell you anything about him,” she said finally. The words were like ice. Playing hard to get, eh? I thought. “I don’t want to prejudice your opinion.”
I sighed wearily, like this was an everyday occurrence.
“I’m a pro,” I said. “That’s why you hired me.”
“No. I hired you because you were the first private eye I saw,” she said.
Still playing coy, I thought. Okay. Two can play at that game. I opened my mouth to ask another question but she held up her hand.
“I have a dossier for you,” she said, passing me a sealed eight by ten envelope. You’ll see a picture of the man I want you to follow. I’ll need daily reports. Sometimes two a day. We…I want to know where he is, who he’s with, what he does. I do know that right now he is booked onto a cruise crossing the Atlantic Ocean, with stops in Bermuda, Ireland, Scotland and England.”
“I’m not sure I have the time available,” I started, thinking that two can play the ‘coy’ game.
She was glaring at me openly now.
“Fine,” she said in a voice that sounded as cold as an accountant’s Christmas card. She took the dossier away and thrust it into her briefcase. The check and the cruise line ticket followed.
All of which goes to explain how I wound up here in Fort Lauderdale, a shamus in a trench coat, shadowing a guy in a track suit.
He was not as old as the other people in the room. But he was old At least 40. He got up from his table, wiped his mouth with a napkin and headed for the door. Pulling my hat down over my eyes, I followed him into the night.
As I stepped through the door my head caved in and the pavement came up and smacked me hard in the face. All the lights went completely and resolutely out.