So I’m propping up the bar at Potters. My usual spot. It’s a handy place, being on the corner of my block. And people know where to find me. For better or worse. For potential clients? Better. For people who want to feed their knuckles to my mouth? Worse.
It’s Worse that walks in now. Fashionable. Rakishly good-looking. If I was a gambling man I’d say this could be the fella who answered the late Eames’ phone.
Half-flopped upon the sticky bar, I’m an easy mark, I’ll admit. There’s nobody close enough to hide me from view, not that they would. I have that effect on the public, including the barflies in this watering hole, but I’m not sure why.
Is it the fact I’m typically drunk enough that my sweat could be wrung out, bottled and sold as 40% proof hooch?
Is it my committed dress sense to a classier by-gone era when detectives had equal parts moxie and panache? And what an era! So elegant. So sophisticated. An era where a gent could carry his racially insensitive views without fear of becoming a pariah. Where an uppity dame could take a slap and only stare through her tears with staunch adoration and only the merest flicker of fear. Not that I did any of those things. I only stick to the dress style and a few other time-appropriate customs.
Maybe it’s the fact that I openly talk to myself and frequently fall into periods of free-flowing stream of consciousness that keeps people away.
I don’t know, I’m not a shrink or one of those New Age sociologist types.
But I do vaguely recall a shrink telling me something like that. Jilted exes and my kids too. My former captain at the precinct. Several detectives.
I might have given these problems a mental shallow grave. But some bodies don’t like to stay buried. Their cases may grow cold but their spirits demand justice.
So I’m still chewing on all of this when the big fella is introducing my face to the bar. It hurts, but I’m a big boy. I can take it. Cheek pressed into the small puddle of tequila, my necktie being used to choke me like a silk viper, I flash a glance at Clay the bartender, but he’s doing his usual shtick of pretending he doesn’t see me. We have that sort of playful back-and-forth.
The angry young man let’s me up. He’s made his point. I finish my bourbon and rattle the ice at Clay for a refill. Clay pretends he has to restock the beer fridge. But I notice for the first time that my new violent pal is the same movie star handsome man who I caught with Eames’ wife.
Coincidence? Did I do anything else to this mook? No, it must have been the photos.
He’s right in my ear, perfect white teeth close enough to chew my lobe off. He tells me the photos I provided Eames have been shredded, and asks if I sent any copies to anybody else. It’s a little harsh, but he even goes as far as to insult my sense of propriety by asking if I took any shots with my cell phone?!
Some people have no class. That’s something you can’t buy.
But that’s when my double-vision notices his wedding band. It seems Mrs. Eames wasn’t the only one practicing infidelity.
I ask him, man-to-man, no lies or nonsense, if he murdered Eames. I don’t even know if he actually is dead. All I have is this salty individual’s word for it.
He tells me he’s never killed anybody, but my mind adds lately. He has one of those loveless, predatory faces which only sees the world as various pieces of meat lumped on plates of opportunity.
I have no idea what that even means. Was it a bad metaphor? Not sure, but I swallow a little vomit without getting any on myself or this empty-headed goon. I think it’s clear that I’m on top form.
The charming predator says Eames shot himself, but I don’t like the glint in his eye.
Did Eames shoot himself? Did grief place her dark, slender, womanly hand over his, and guide his finger to the trigger?
Sometimes I think I should write some of this stuff down! Try my hand as a writer. They love to drink. The old guard did anyway. The legends in the field. I suck on a bourbon soaked ice cube waiting for Clay’s return, pontificating on the appeal of being a boozy writer. I’m already halfway qualified.
And its clear my professional reputation isn’t worth the paper my online course was printed on, but maybe it’s because my heart isn’t in it anymore. I sabotaged my police career by refusing to not see the big picture. I was the only stand-up guy there who saw all the connecting red threads making a macrame conspiracy. But maybe I pushed too hard because I knew I couldn’t take on city hall.
I notice the ladies man is now looking at me like he caught a bad smell on the wind. Was I talking to myself again?
Call it pity, but he actually fixes my tie, smoothes my mussed-up hair, and hands me my fallen fedora. Damn, he then goes above and beyond, signalling Clay like a champ and ordering me a drink. He doesn’t pay, which costs him a few points but it was a good effort.
Satisfied that I’m as harmless as a neutered mutt, he turns to leave me wallowing in my little low rent bubble of booze. That’s when I notice the unmistakable bulge of a piece tucked in his lower back. It’s also when my stomach decides to heave-ho all over the barroom floor. Through burning eyes I notice that I splattered some of my professional pride across the toes of his suede shoes. Right near a few droplets of blood.
I knock back my last drink before Clay’s bouncers haul my kiester out of there.
A better man, a better detective might turn bloodhound and decide to follow up on this unsavoury character. Snoop around into Eames’ final moments. His cheating wife. Her cologne-bathing beau who sneered at me before exiting the bar. And blow the case wide open through quick-wits, scarred-knuckle tenacity, and a few unlikely leaps in logic which requires some suspension of belief.
But I’m not a better man, and I’m not a detective. I’m a private detective. Makes all the difference. Eames is too dead to pay me to care.
Daniel James is an author of speculative (and sometimes dark and weird) fiction 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.