I’m sat parked across the street from the dame I’m being paid to watch. Not in a creepy way. I’m a professional. The money’s not great, but it keeps the office lights on and me hip-deep in black coffee and desk-drawer bourbon. The broad is a real looker in person, her photograph didn’t lie, no catching her at a perfectly staged angle with just the right amount of light. It’s little wonder she’s cheating on the mook who hired me to snap shots of her. That guy must have had a horseshoe up his ass to land her. Or maybe it was his money. But it was only ever a matter of time before a woman as fine as this one had her eye snagged by a fella without a paunch and bald spot. You know what I’m talking about, the type of man who year on year resembles a bit more of a potato.
I wipe my hand across the steamed-up window and finish my coffee. It was black as midnight, and will keep me up way past then. This isn’t a glamorous life. I have three divorces and a heap of kids who want nothing to do with me to prove it.
Who am I talking too? I don’t know sometimes. Maybe I’m lonely. Maybe I’ve been hit in the head by too many trench coat gorillas. I catch sight of my blood-rimmed eyes in the rear view mirror. Not enough sleep. Too many late nights. Too much booze. Too much coffee. Too many moonlit soliloquy’s by my office window as I stare down at the roaches scurrying about these filthy streets. A vacation would do me a world of good. It’s no surprise I’m so worked-up all the time.
I need to drain the bladder again. That’s what 10 cups of coffee in two hours will do to you. My doctor tells me I have the heart of an octogenarian dockworker. Arrhythmia he says. What does he know, he’s a quack. So what if my mouth is dryer than Tutankhamen’s bandages, and my blood moves like rust-colored syrup? The booze will keep me lubed. I drop the coffee cup onto the pile of others growing hair on the backseat. My hand trembles as I reach for the dregs of bourbon sloshing about the bottle. It burns like medicine going down, but it will stop the bone rattle shakes. Why do I smell the stale tang of puke? Never mind. I continue to watch the woman, the blonde angel across the street in the cafe, making blue bottle doe eyes at the good looking lunk staring back at her. Are my eyes blurring? I can’t be three sheets to the wind already, I’ve only knocked back three quarters of cough syrup. Maybe I should get another coffee, even my keel.
My nostrils twitch and I stare down at my shirt and tie. Shit. Some asshole has sprayed vomit all over me. Who could that have been? My watch tells me it’s nearly time to head on back. Catch forty winks at my desk before turning over the photos of this little tryst to the poor schlub who hired me. A big player in this dirty little town. He could have spent more clams on a more reputable investigator, but he chose me. The fat cats like to hold on to as much of their yarn as possible. He won’t be happy to learn that his suspicions are on the money, but I will. I’ll be paid. A warm relief spreads through me as I think about it, just south of the border. It’s a rotten business, but that’s the life of a private dick. That’s why I’ve had three marriage pink slips and kids who won’t return my calls.
Haven’t I mentioned that already?
Wait, why’s my lap wet. Great, I forgot to grab the piss bottle didn’t I? These are my only pants. My third wife took my other pair in the divorce. Guess maybe I do have a drinking problem. “What’s it to ya?” I ask the person looking back at me in the rear view, but he doesn’t answer me. His eyes are rolling around like pool balls. Someone down the wire tells me that I’m arguing with myself again. Brain pickled in booze.
Is this why those chuckling goons at the precinct used to call me Relapse? My name is Howard Jones, but Relapse always preceded me. A loser, they used to say. Delusional. Why did I dress and act like a discount Bogart from the 1940’s? I never had a good answer for them. I was always too busy trying to uncover the corruption at the top.
It never got me anywhere but fired.
Seems like proof of a scandal to me.
With a shaking hand I start the engine, step on the gas, firing a sweet farewell glance at the easy dame in the cafe.
The bumper buries itself like a monkey’s accordion in the car in front, loud enough to scare eight lives out of an alley cat. Maybe nobody saw it. Maybe I can get away scot-free. I glance out the window.
The whole cafe is rubbernecking. What’s it to ya? I say to nobody. I turn the stalled engine over, chafing in my piss-soaked seat and worrying about adult diaper rash when I see the client’s gal clip-clopping her high-heeled stems towards me. Then it dawns on me like morning sunshine through a dusty window. It’s her car I just rammed into.
Isn’t that the cherry on the sundae.
Throwing it into reverse, I stamp down on the gas, straight into the car behind me, shift back into drive, and launch myself into traffic. Being a functional alcoholic, I manage to avoid clipping the dame. Hitting her wouldn’t do me any favors. Wouldn’t do me any favors at all. It’s one thing to skip out on trading insurance info, it’s a whole other kettle of fish to accidentally cripple a client’s wife. I should know. I did that once. That ugly business led me to my first rehab. Didn’t stick. Oh yeah, Relapse. Heh-heh. I leave the doll the same way I left all the others in my life, shrieking in a public area and threatening my manhood.
My manhood is just fine. Just needs a wash and a new pair of briefs is all. I focus on getting back to the office before I’m pulled over by a couple of bulls. I think about the photos and the coming envelope of cash. Not much, but enough to keep the lights on another month. And I think about the bourbon in my desk. It’s not a glamorous life, but it’s the only one I know.
My name is Relapse Jones. Private dick. If you need me, you can probably afford me.
Daniel James is an author of dark fantasy, thrillers, and horror, from Liverpool, England. His character-driven, action-packed urban fantasy novel, Hourglass, received a Kirkus Star from Kirkus Reviews, and was voted one of their Best 100 Indie novels of 2021.