Monday, April 13, 2009

Danger is Not My Middle Name #4

The sun is beating down on me like a thousand tiki torches held just a few inches away from my skin. I’m looking around me, making an effort to look everywhere except at the subject – so whenever my eyes would ordinarily pass over him, I shut them tight. It’s the old ‘if you can’t see me, I can’t see you’ strategy. It’s a little something I picked up in the Ray Hunker Correspondence School of Detection of Des Moines.

There’s a guy beside me. Curly hair steadily crawling up his forehead. His chest is covered in hair too (maybe he’s a bear?) and while he sleeps there’s a little trickle of drool running a little rivulet down his chin. He’s snoring softly.

I do what the tourists all do. First I turn down the thirty-seven offers from various service staff to fetch an over-priced drink. Then, I stare at a single twenty-something in a very brief bikini walking slowly around the pool, pretending she doesn’t know every mug in the immediate vicinity isn’t imagining a moving violation with her. She moves like a cat, if this cat had a body designed by teenage boys and a face so beautiful it makes your eyes ache. I cover my interest by scratching my belly, which I suck in as far as possible as beach bunny girl saunters by.

Even our subject is entranced. I see him undressing what little she is wearing and then something happens. Her eyes meet mine and she half smiles. What do I see there? An unspoken question? It’s certainly not the standard “oh…it’s just YOU” dismissal I have come to expect. I look around me casually. Can it be?

Only the drooling sleeper and I are in this direction so there’s a pretty good chance she is actually smiling at me so I half smile back. I hold off on my sexy bedroom eyes because I hardly know her and have no idea how much unexpected white hot desire she can stand.

I need to switch gears here...much as I hate to divert your attention from a pretty girl to cat puke. It’s important. Trust me. I once had a cat (for about four days) that made these wet sounding compulsively belching noises just before horking a hairball onto the carpet. I hear one of these nearby – which I ignore since I am still looking at Blonde Bunny Babe, totally forgetting I already have a girlfriend, which I don’t. Not really. Actually.

A voice near my ear surprises me so badly that I nearly swallow my tongue.

“Do it now,” she says.

She? Who she, I wonder.

“Do what?” I ask through barely moving lips – another skill I have Mr. Ray Hunker of Des Moines to thank for.

“The narcolepsy,” she says. The “She” (in case you haven’t been following this tale) is Jennifer Jonas…a fellow dick, operating under cover of being my girlfriend as we track the mystery man on board the ship.

“…what?” I ask. The Bunny Babe is still looking at me. I am only foggily aware of anything else on the planet. A pretty girl is smiling at me and I’m not even wearing my fedora at a rakish angle. Holy crap!

“Fake an attack now, while everyone is watching .The medical officer just came on deck. He’s watching you.”

“Right now?” I ask. Bunny Babe is going to think I am a geek. No. She’ll KNOW I’m a geek. Damn damn damn.

“Yes. Now.”

I sigh and breathe one word “No.”

“Time for your medication now, darling,” says Jennifer in a way too loud voice.


“Do it NOW,” she hisses, and spills half a glass of ice water on me. My body wants to jump out of the chair, arms waving, legs jerking. Beach Bunny Babe, who has the body of a goddess and the reaction time of a sloth, is still looking at me. But then so is everyone else. I fall back against the cushion and try to lie still. I don’t make little mewling noises as the ice water passes through the trunks. I am, after all, a pro. Instead I lie perfectly still, like a man in a coma.

Jennifer slaps at my cheeks a little too hard and I make a show of slowly coming back to consciousness. Being a trained observer – I notice three things:

1) Beach Bunny Babe is gone.
2) So is our subject and
3) The sleeping drooling guy is dead.

It is number three that concerns me the most. I can tell he’s dead because he is no longer snoring and the little river of drool has been replaced by a tinier river of blood. His head is at a near impossible angle. I point and Jennifer follows the direction of my finger.

She takes a sharp intake of breath as she puts the pieces together.

Then she reaches down and lifts a wallet out of a bag beside the body. She grabs my arm and together, with a parting nod at the medical officer, we exit the pool area.

“Did you see the…ummm….subject leave?” I ask.

Jennifer shakes her head. The movement is tight.

“Did you see what happened to…y’know…the dead guy?”

Again she shakes her head.

“This just got a whole lot more dangerous, didn’t it?” I say.
This time she nods. She holds her lower lip between her teeth.

“I think now is the time to tell you some things you need to know,” she says with the air of someone who has made a decision to step way over the line. “These are things you should have already been told. Let’s go back to the stateroom. These are things you really need to know, Mr. Sam D. Diamond.”

“The ‘D’ stands for ‘Danger’ you know,” I lie.

“Uh huh,” she responds, trying hard not to be too impressed. “Hurry up. I don’t think we have much time before it kills again.”

“It?” I ask.

She nods. “It.”

Danger is Not My Middle Name #3

The first thing I feel is some kind of nail being stuck into my temples. The pain is razor sharp, like a cleaver. The next sensation: I feel myself being rocked gently back and forth. Am I in a cradle? I try to re-construct the last few moments.

Stand by bar, hat at rakish angle. Check.
Undress a hundred women with my bedroom eyes. Check.
Watch the subject like a hawk. Ummm…check.
Follow the subject into the night. Check? Check?

I don’t remember anything after walking through the doorway – just this enormous explosion of light in my head. Did I walk into a door…again? Did an astroidette come down from outer space and smack me? Was it one of those damn undead bloodsucking orchids? I thought they were an urban myth.
Something cool is pressed to my forehead. It feels good and it seems to draw the pain out of my head. I try to open my eyes, but they won’t cooperate, so the end result is me wiggling my eyebrows like Groucho Marx.

“Are you awake then?” It is a businesslike female voice.

“Unnnngh,” I respond. It’s the best I can do. My words get lost somewhere inside the fog in my brain.

“You took a nasty blow to the head,” says the voice. Is it English? Irish? I did very poorly at accent identification at the Ray Hunker Correspondence School of Detection, incorrectly identifying a female German prison guard as a rich Italian heiress.

I try to open my eyes, but wind up only wiggling my eyebrows. Again.

“That looks ridiculous,” she says.

“Unnnngh,” I say again.

“You just watch your tongue, mister Diamond.”

I feel fingers picking at my eyes and my instinct is to bat them away. But my hands still haven’t quite caught up with my brain and they simply flap around like birds on a strange street drug.

She, for I am now reasonably certain it is a she, slaps my hands away and pries my eyelids open. Something crusty that you don’t need to know anything more about, falls to the ground and I am looking into soft green eyes, framed in a purely female face direct from some heavenly cloud. My heart does a happy double beat.

“We may not have much time,” she says. “You are on board the Grand Princess cruise liner.”

“Unnnngh?” I ask.

“Oh. Good question. I brought you here. As for as anyone else is concerned, we are lovers, sharing stateroom C327. Stop leering like that. It’s disgusting.”

“Unnnngh?” I ask

“Me? I am Jennifer Jonas. Your…client hired me to follow you in case something like this happened. I told them you have a sleeping disorder – that you can conk at any second. Now that I think of it, you’ll have to remember to do drop to the ground in a dead sleep at least once or twice…preferably in the buffet line or a crowded theater.”


“No. I didn’t see who hit you. When I came upon, you were already down, lying in a pool of your own vomit.”


“Oh for heaven’s sake. It’s just an expression. ‘Came upon’ simply means ‘saw.’”


“I am a private dick. Like you. Only much better.”

“I worked in a dentist office for three years. I understand you perfectly. Now go to sleep. You’ve had a concussion. Rest.”

There’s a matter of fact nurse vibe happening here that I am finding very sort of…never mind. I close my eyes and drift off.

The next morning my girlfriend and I (a thing which excites me tremendously because I have never had an actual girlfriend, although I once held hands with Nancy Antel in a darkened theater for three full minutes because she thought I was someone else) go up to the Horizon buffet for breakfast because our subject does.

We watch him and he has no idea. We’re pros. We are the wind. Breaking.
We are sitting beside another couple. They have the cabin next to ours. He is a dazzlingly handsome man who is looking with patient tired eyes at a drop dead gorgeous woman. Her attention is fixed on a laptop screen.

“It’s still fifty freaking cents a minute,” he says.

“I know,” she responds. “But this is flickr.”

The man spreads his hands wide in a “so what” gesture.

Interested as I am in this discussion, I have to leave. Our subject moves outside to the deck chairs.

I nod once to Jennifer and follow him, taking the chair just a few down from him. I make a show of stretching and laying my towel out…looking around me as I slip off my shirt and suck in my stomach. Once seated, I nonchalantly snap a shot of my feet with my camera – so I look like any other tourist. It’s touches like that that make me a pro.

I have no idea that in five minutes, someone is going to die.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #2

Fort Lauderdale is full of old people. Fat ones, thin ones. Most of them wear bright track suits – though you only ever see them shuffling. They never jog. The men lean on canes or walkers, looking like slightly confused lizards while their wives take care of the hotel arrangements. Being a trained observer, I see that the men don’t talk much, and when they do, their mouths are usually full of food – with is just gross. I also noticed the women can’t seem to shut up. They all talk at the same time in strident tones guaranteed to make my head ache.

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.

New Ways to Present Travel Images

I have been trying to come up with a new way to present travel photos. I really hate the old "Aunt Hazel and I went on a tour through the potato fields of Idaho and only took 6,345 pictures. Here they are in no particular order."
The last trip, Sheree and I took through the Amazon -- I blogged every single day. This trip I want to try something different. So here it is: a travel story featuring one photo a day. The only rule: the images all have to be taken on this trip.
So here goes nothing. I present a new project called "Danger is Not My Middle Name."
I’m the guy you bring your secrets to. Dirty secrets and family secrets. The kind of secrets you only whisper to a lover when the lights are out. Secrets are my business.

My name is Samuel D. Diamond. I tell pretty girls that the “D” stands for ‘Danger.’ But it really stands for “Delbert” – which is why I only use the initial. My first name isn’t really Sam either…and my last name is something you couldn’t even pronounce which is why I changed it to “Diamond.”

I’m a private dick – and save the clever comments. I‘ve heard them all.

My office is in New Orleans, a single sweltering box above Ray’s Boom Boom Room on Frenchman Street. The rent’s cheap here because when Ray has a band on, the “boom boom” sounds make it impossible to hear. Ray’s a friend of mine. Even though he doesn’t know it. I paid him his first months rent a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been here ever since...guarding the secrets of anyone who will pay me…even though no one has actually hired me yet.

But when she walked into my office, I could see secrets written all over her. She was sleek like a panther is sleek with blue eyes that invited the unwary to enter them and disappear forever. I could already feel my heart doing a slow fade. So I made a point of looking away with an air of affected disinterest. Make her wait for it, I thought cunningly.

“You must be Mr. Diamond,” she said in a voice that begged for more conversation, just so you could hear it. Just so you could be warmed by it in places better left unmentioned.

I didn’t answer. I just flipped my fedora back so she could get a gander at my eyes. I was Bogie. She was Lauren. She hid her flush of desire well. To a casual bystander, it would have appeared as though she didn’t feel the heat at all. But like I say, she wanted me. I’m pretty sure. .

I fixed her with my number ten grin – which usually causes hearts to melt and underwear to fire through the air…sometimes even someone else’s. But she simply looked back at me with those glittering green eyes.

“You must be Mr. Diamond?” she asked again. She pretended to inject a little irritation onto the question. Coquettish little thing, I thought.

“I am,” I said, keeping my voice several octaves lower than ordinary. I tend to squeak when I am get hot and bothered, which doesn’t fit at all well with the “Danger is my middle name” image. Neither does the fact that I am a recent graduate of the Ray Hunker Correspondence School of Detection of Des Moines – which is why I keep my framed diploma (which was a ten dollar option but I figured what the hell…) in the desk drawer.

Being a dick is still much better than my old job as the assistant to the assistant security director at Cavalcade of Value Shopping Mall in Seligman, Arizona.

“I need your help, Mr. Diamond,” she said.

“Help is my middle name,” I quipped cleverly.

Confusion flickered across her face. Then she shook her head, as though to clear away the cobwebs.

“The job I need you to do is dangerous.” Her eyes flickered over mine and I was glad I was sitting down. “I want you to follow a man. He’s going on a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. You’ll have to go to Europe, I’m afraid.”

A single tear spilled out of her eye and rolled down that delicious apple cheek.

“Will you help me, Mr. Diamond? Please?”

It’s not often a pretty girl will even talk to me, let alone say “please.” (There was Ingrid Johanssen from my Dungeons and Dragons game several years ago. She asked me once to “Please pass her the attack dice” just before she kicked my butt back into the seventh ring of Argamoth. But she looked like the seventh level cave troll she was playing and I don’t think she ever liked me much anyway.)

Why was I thinking of Ingrid? I smacked myself in the forehead for being so goofy and when my vision cleared, I saw that look of confusion on her face again.

She had placed a cashier’s check on my desk. There were a lot of zeros there…and a ticket for a cruise.

“You bet, toots,” I growled. “Danger is my middle name.”