A client brings P.I. Frank Derringer a new case, and a chance at a lucrative bonus. My attempt at noir.
Please enjoy the story. Comments always welcome.
A Stairway to Money
The stairway echoed with the clang of dress shoes on the steel steps. Frank Derringer reached the third floor landing where his office was located. He paused to catch his breath. No wonder I have no clients. No one wants to climb these stairs with the elevator out of order. Again.
Frank turned to his office, stopped short. Sitting on the floor in front of his office door was a woman. A beautiful woman. Blond hair. High heels and a black suit with a white blouse. Her long legs spanned the width of the corridor.
Wow, that’s gotta hurt ya, he muttered under his breath.
Frank stepped closer to the woman. He caught a whiff of a perfume foreign to his experience. “Can I help you?”
The woman waved her thumb towards the stenciled glass panel in the door.
“If your name matches the name on the door, then yes.”
“I’m Frank Derringer. Derringer, PI.”
“Help me get up and find me a chair.”
Frank offered his arm and the woman rose gracefully from the floor. Frank unlocked the door and ushered her in. He moved straight to his desk, brushed an ashtray full of cigarette butts into a waste basket.
The woman sat opposite Frank. “I need your help in finding someone.”
“Before we start, I should say I take a twenty percent deposit before I start any assignment.”
“Seeing as you were an hour late in opening your office, I see no need for me to pay you a deposit. Take the job or I’ll find someone else.”
Frank opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it.
“Okay, how can I help you?”
“My name is Lily Collingswood, I want you to find my husband.”
Ah, another easy divorce case.
“What can you tell me about him”
“The cops shot him two nights ago.”
“And you don’t know where he is.”
“Well…he’s in the morgue. They’re holding him till they finish their investigation.”
“So…you know where he is.”
“In the morgue, but they will only let me see him through a glass window.”
“Did you identify him?”
“Then why do you need me?”
“It gets complicated. I need a picture of the tattoo on his arm.”
“Lady, this is getting weird.”
“I need that picture before they bury him.”
Frank let a cigarette. “Smoke?”
“No, thanks. Can you take the job?”
“You want me to go to the morgue, access your husband’s body, and take a photo of his arm?
“Yes, and more precisely, his left bicep.”
“May I ask why?”
“My husband stole a satchel full of diamonds three years ago. That tattoo is the key to where he hid them.”
“Haven’t you seen the tattoo already?”
“Yeah, but it’s a little esoteric. I would need to study it.”
“And if you find the diamonds?”
“Your fee would then be ten percent of what I get.”
“That’s generous…but I could lose my license dealing with stolen stuff.”
“Your decision.” Lily sat back in the chair, letting Frank stew over his answer.
The following morning Frank was at the city morgue. The medical examiner was an old friend. Frank stood over Lily’s husband’s body. His story, he was representing a client who was considering suing the city over the shooting. The medical examiner had shrugged, turned away.
Frank palmed his phone down behind the morgue table. While his friend examined another body, Frank slipped the cover down, spotted the tattoo, and snapped several photos. He pulled the cover sheet back up to the body’s chin. He then thought to look for surveillance cameras, but did not see any. He slipped the phone back into his pocket.
That afternoon, in a coffee shop with Lily Collingswood, he shared the photo. She studied it for long moments. “This is a tough one.”
Frank sipped his black coffee, watched Lily intently.
“There are no numbers here. No names. Only symbols.”
Frank had already studied the tattoo before sharing it. Nothing made sense to him.
“Tell you what. You pay me my usual fee and I walk away. I trust you that if you recover the diamonds, you might remember me.”
Lily took out her checkbook without a word, wrote a check paid out to Frank Derringer.
Frank stood to leave.
“I won’t forget you.” She said.
Back in his office, a cigarette burning down in his ashtray, Frank pored over the tattoo picture. He transferred it to his laptop screen for a larger view. Nothing jumped out pointing to a hiding place.
If I can get to the diamonds before Lily does, I can offer her the ten percent cut.
Three days later Frank paced in a downtown subway station watching for passengers to clear the platform. When it was clear, he stepped around the south end of the platform and entered the tunnel. If he was right, the diamonds were stashed just inside the tunnel, under a patch of broken concrete.
Using his phone as a flashlight, he groped around for the satchel. Another light flashed over his shoulder. He whipped around.
“Shit yeah. So much for trusting.”
Frank stared at Lily.
“Looks like we both figured it out at the same time.”
Frank stood away from the concrete. “Fair is fair. He was your husband.”
Lily stepped around Frank, poked around at the spot, and pulled back with a maroon satchel in her hand. She slipped open the drawstring. “Diamonds. Uncut.”
Frank took a few steps back, not wanting to appear threatening. He held up his hands. “They’re yours.”
Lily smiled. “Yeah. For the years of grief he gave me, I deserve this.” She shoved the satchel into her pocket. The two peered into the station platform. Still clear. They walked out into the light.
Up on the street, Lily signaled for them to step into an alley. She took out the satchel, removed a single diamond, slipped it into Frank’s palm. “No idea if this is ten percent, but my gesture of thanks…even if you were apparently going to screw me over.”
Frank shrugged, muttered a thank you.
Lily walked off down the sidewalk.
Later Frank climbed the stairs to his office, called a fence he knew. Maybe I can afford an office with an elevator now.