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Hard Boiled Christmas (Day One)

Hard Boiled Christmas

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

Day 1: Christmas Again


            I was sitting alone in my dark office, on a cold night in December, looking over my options and trying to decide what to do with my life. The last year hadn’t gone the way I would have liked. Even though as I was going over our annual books, it looked like it had been a fairly profitable year. The Office of Jack Collier, Private Investigator was doing quite well. It just wasn’t a good year for me personally. It wasn’t that it had been a particularly bad year as such, it was that beyond work there wasn’t much of a year at all. If the last year hadn’t happened, I would personally be in the exact same spot I had been this time last year.


            I had spread my options out on the desk before me. My desk isn’t exactly huge, it’s not one of those massive things that you think of when you think about an antique desk. When you see CEOs in the movies sitting behind their desks, they look much more impressive. They have bigger desks than I do. It’s an old Victorian relic though, and thus it’s solid enough to take the weight of two lonely people who have surrendered to the urge of physical contact. It can take the regular pushing and gruntings of a pair of people who needed to feel something from another person just to make sure they were still alive and not in some purgatorial existence or thrust into a sensationless limbo. I wish they would find another desk though, they keep messing up my papers when they do it here.


            My desk is big enough for the year’s options to be spread out before me. On the far left of my desk was a portfolio of low risk, high yield stocks and bonds that I could invest our year’s profits into instead of giving myself and Debbie a nice bonus. Next to that on a small sticky note with the words ‘real estate’ written in ball point pen. In the middle of the desk, were the bills that needed to be paid this week. Next to that I had another sticky note with the word ‘Paris’ written on it. On the far right, was my Webley-Fosbery fourty-five automatic revolver loaded with six hollow point bullets that I had personally dumb-dumbed to my own specificaions.


            This is not to say that I was contemplating suicide, just that I was admitting it was an option. I’m not as smart as some people, so I need to see all the options before me to make an informed decision. The idea of investing Debbie’s annual bonus money was frankly as horrifying as putting the barrel of the gun in my mouth and airing out the back of my head. I had already written the checks and put stamps on all the envelopes, which was always the last thing I did before mailing them, so they were ready to go. To this end, I was pretty much done considering my options and I had selected going on as I had before. I leaned back in my chair and sighed, looking at the portfolio and then the revolver.


            I sat forward in my chair and snatched the gun off my desk, broke it open and emptied it. I then got out of my chair and walked over the the big safe that sat on the floor in the corner. I opened the safe, took out the smaller fire safe, opened it with my key, and deposited the gun with its smaller and more regularly used brother. I closed the fire safe and returned it to its shelf in the larger safe, closed the door and twisted the knob around to zero. I then stood up and walked back to my desk, picking up the prospectus and tossing it back in the second drawer on the left. I picked up the two pieces of paper and crumpled them between my fingers and tossed them into the garbage.


            I looked at the envelopes, filled with bills and checks. It is proof of a civilized world that there are such things as credit and payment through the mail, but sometimes I’d rather just slip Detroit Edison a packet of used bills in a plain envelope. If for no other reason than it would get me out of the office and I could meet people who didn’t need to employ a private detective. Instead of such a personal being though, I was a private detective living in a civilized world. That is what I was doing in my office at that advanced hour of the night.


            I refuse to take my work home with me, and I refuse to make Debbie do the monthly bills, and I’m a particularly lazy beast who lets the bills pile up until the pile threatens to topple over. It wasn’t an issue of money as the bank balance was as it always was. There was enough to pay the bills, enough to pay Debbie her pittance, and enough to pay myself. There was even enough to give ourselves a nice office party once in a while, and a decent annual bonus for Debbie to take her vacation in March when she usually went on one of her trips. That is the reason that investing all our profits was not a realistic option you see? I cannot deny Debbie her time off or her trip.


            I was just putting the stamp on the envelope for my landlord when the phone rang. It wasn’t my cell phone, which means it wasn’t one of the four people who might actually call me on my cell, but rather the office phone. I had to leap up and run across my office to the waiting room and jump to Debbie’s desk to pick up her receiver. The phone in my office only rings when Debbie puts a call through because I’ve never bothered to have her set up the phone system beyond the voice mail if we don’t pick up.


            I walked to the outer office quickly, so as not to miss the call. This meant throwing open the door to my inner office and half leaping across Debbie’s reception desk. I snatched the phone on the third ring and raised the reciver to my ear.


            “Hello?” I asked as I picked up the phone, not bothering to announce the company name. Debbie does the phone answering in this office and if she wasn’t going to be here after hours just because she wants to get home at a reasonable hour, I wasn’t going to do her job for her.


            “Jack?” The voice was familiar, but not immediately.


            “Yeah.” I said, figuring that I might as well admit that much.


            “It’s Tom Noonan.” Detective Tom Noonan of the local constabulary said.


            “Hi Tom.” I said, while trying to remember if I had anything to cover up. “What can I do for you?”


            “You haven’t been out and about tonight have you?” He asked.


            “No.” I said and decided to lie instead of tell the truth of how lame I was. “I was just kicking up my feet with a bottle of rye and a grateful client.”


            “So you don’t know then?” His voice had an edge of worry I didn’t like.


            “Know what?” I asked, a cold tumor suddenly forming in my belly.


            “Officially I’m going to have to ask you about your movements tonight.”


            I knew, at that moment I knew. Sure, it could have been anyone. There are hundreds of thousands of people he could be calling me about. There was only one that mattered though, only one that he would ask me about in that way and there was only one reason he could be asking like this. I could feel my heart groan, my feet sigh and my shoulders grumble. I was going to be involved with her again and all my efforts to avoid her would be for not. She was going to be re-entering my life again, and there was nothing I could do about it. I knew that whatever it was, I was going to be involved one way or another.


            “I was at the office all day.” I told him. “Debbie can verify that up until about five when she went home, around seven-thirty I got hungry so I ordered some Thai food, it got here at eight. I ate, and I’ve been sitting here paying the bills and going over the accounts.”


            “You mean you’ve been working on something?” he almost sounded hopeful about that.


            “No.” I said, “I mean I’ve been writing checks and stamping envelopes.”


            “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He said, with a resigned sigh.


            “Maybe you should tell me what happened.” I wanted to ask if it was about her, but I just couldn’t.


            “It’s Christmas.” He said, and my heart would have sunk into my toes but fortunately there were a lot of organs blocking its passage. “She was attacked. She’s down at Saint Joe’s right now.”


            “What the hell is she doing at Saint Joe’s?” I asked. “She lives in Bloomfield, doesn’t she?”


            “She was found in the Wiegand’s nursery parking lot.” He said and then began to rattle things off like a cop would to another cop. I’ve never been a cop, but appreciated the compliment. “She was found about nine o’clock, but we estimate she was dropped there between eight thirty and nine. She was attacked with something like a baseball bat or other large blunt object so it probably wasn’t done there. They went over her pretty good. Smashed both legs, left shoulder, ribs, smashed up her face so bad you can’t recognize her, then they did some carving with a knife as well. She’s in intensive care right now, they don’t even know if she’ll last the night. They even strangled her a little with some of the string lights up on one of the trees. When they found her, she still had the lights around her neck.”


            “You said dumped?” I asked, trying not to sound like a snoopy private detective.


            “Her car is nowhere to be found.” He said. “I probably shouldn’t even be telling you all this, but… well you know.”


            “Yeah.” I said flatly. “I do know.”


            “You’ve been at the office all night?”


            “Yeah.” I said. “You want to come over and grill me a little?”


            “I don’t think so.” He said. “Give me a call tomorrow and maybe I can give you a better idea of what went down.”


            “Thanks Tom.” I said, trying not to sit down because I knew I’d never move again if I did.


            “You going to look into this?” He sounded like he didn’t even want to broach the subject. “I mean, we sort of said.”


            “I know.” I felt like I’d been shot and was losing more blood by the second. “I don’t know if I can do that again.”


            “Yeah.” He sounded like he had a similar wound. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know.”


            “Sure Tom.” I told him, not only was I loosing blood, but they were giving me a transfusion of ice water. “And thanks for telling me before the news did.”


            “You only heard it from me first because you didn’t turn on the TV.” He said. “They’ve been all over this since it happened, they were called first.”


            “They usually are these days.” I looked out the window to see if anyone was watching the office. “You sure you don’t need a real statement from me?”


            “Yeah.” He said. “I’ll have to go see Church though, that’s going to be fun.”


            “Good luck.” I didn’t see anyone in the windows, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.


            “Thanks.” He said. “I’ll talk to you later.”


            “Yeah, bye-bye.” I then hung up the phone and sat back down in my chair.


            Christmas. Damn.


            As much as everyone loves her, very few people actually know her. I knew her, and I loved her once. The problem with her was that she made everything more difficult, being the persona dramatica did that. There was an unending list of dramas in her life, a continual procession of issues and problems. Most people just saw her show and thought that was what she was like. I knew her as a person though, and because of that the tragic side of her life was a bit clearer to me. The divorce, the addiction, the pain, the suffering was all there if you looked. People thought she was just a beautiful creature, who could create a month long anticipation for her show. Sometimes, if a person really loved the show, they’d start getting excited before Sam Hain closed his show. I knew her though, which meant that I knew the truth.


            Christmas… son of a bitch.


            I felt some anger then, all of the sudden, just like that. She could do that to you even if you were careful. Just thinking about her could bring up feelings you didn’t know you still had anymore. You’d be going along in your usual dull haze of gray, and there she would be, a bright shining light. She would remind you of how you used to feel around her, even if you couldn’t really feel that way anymore. She could even make you feel things that you’d thought yourself incapable of. She could do things like that, even if she weren’t really around. Except it was all a lie. She would leave a moment later with the promise still unfulfilled on your lips, like a kiss that had almost been given.


            I thought of her, lying in a parking lot and I got angry. Someone had done something to her and they were going to have to pay. I thought about grabbing my gun and going out into the night. I figured I could be on the street with gun in hand in under two minutes. Except my guns were locked up in the safe. I would have to open the big floor safe, get them out of the fire safe, find the bullets, load them and then go look for someone to shoot.


            It was a lot more effort than I wanted to take at the moment. I’d either get frustrated because I can never open the safe in a hurry, or I’d get the guns out of the safe and would have calmed down by then. The guns were a long way from me, and I would likely give up instead of expend the effort. This is one of the reasons the guns are in that old safe, so that I can’t just grab them and go. An unloaded gun in a safe doesn’t go off at inopportune moments.


            After a little while of standing there, I was calm enough to just go home. I checked all the bills, made sure I’d gotten everything, and left the office. The bills in hand I went through the waiting room and put my coat and hat on. I wound the old scarf a former client had given me as a memento around my neck and left the office, locking the door behind me. I slipped the envelopes into the mail chute and watched them sail away down to the basement.


            I then walked to my car, got in and went home. I was late enough that most the shops had turned off their lights and thus the desperate displays of consumerism and cheer were muted. There were still reminders that it was that time of year, but it didn’t assault me like it would if they were on. If I was lucky, I would forget about all of this by morning.


            I am rarely lucky though.



This is part one of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part two and every day this month until we’re done to see what happens. If you get lost, one of the tags here should help you. The HBC tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.

December 1, 2008 Posted by | Fiction | , | 2 Comments











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