Tag Archives: heartache cafe

Suzie Spade, Girl Detective

27 Jan

Suzi Spade, Girl Detective

 

It was one of those cold January days like we often get around here, when it’s more than your best pair of nylons are worth to even venture outside your domicile. Me, I was holed up in my office trying to gnaw my way through the backlog of paper that was threatening to break the legs off my desk, when the phone opened up.

“Suzi Spade, Girl Detective. What’s eating you?” It’s hard to talk and apply lipstick at the same time but I manage.

“I need your help.” The voice on the other end of the phone was male, and plenty bothered by the sound of it. “There’s no time.”

“No time, huh?” I buffed my  nails on the hem of my skirt and examined them critically. As much as I love being a gumheel*, there’s times when this work puts a serious dent in your manicure. “What about right now, handsome?”

“You have to understand: this isn’t the sort of thing that can get out. You have to swear to me – swear, on your knees and on your mother’s grave – ”

“Whoa, wait a minute there, sailor. This is starting to sound like a popular song.” I pulled a fresh piece of gum out of the pack and stowed it in my cheek. “Why don’t you slow down and tell me what’s wrong? Maybe we can come to some sort of an agreement.”

“Well, alright. But I don’t want to do it over the phone.”

I had to bite my tongue at that one…”Okay, where do you want it?”

I run a cafe down here on Water Street. Right now we’re in the midst of the lunch rush but it usually settles down about three. I can get my bartender Chris to handle things while you and I talk. Does that sound okay?” He gave me the address and I jotted it down, made a promise to meet him there at three and hung up. Two things I’ve learned since I started in this business: #1 – the tumble ain’t always worth it; #2 – always carry a gun.  This first one I had to learn during my apprenticeship, when I was working for Dixon Steele out in SanFran; Dix was one of those tough old-school guys who hit first and ask questions later but he was always good to me. The first time we got drunk together I invited him to check the seams in my stockings but Dix told me that wasn’t kosher: ‘Sure, it might be a lot of fun and I’m sure we could get plenty happy but we’d pay for it in the end. I wouldn’t be your boss no more and that’s all wet. You see what I mean?’ I didn’t, not right then, but after I’d thrown away a good few Saturday nights on some pretty worthless sack time, I understood where he was coming from. Yeah, there’s lots of nice meat walking around but that don’t mean a girl’s gotta always indulge. Sometimes it’s better if you just look. Lucky for me, Dix was easy on the eyes: not too tall, but handsome, with big brown eyes and the kind of long eyelashes that belong on a showgirl, lips that wouldn’t quit. He had a way of talking, a way of looking at you that made you think it was gonna be all silk, if only he’d give in, but he never did.

Dixon Steele, one hell of a shamus

#2 is self-explanatory. I mean, come on. I’m not dumb. I carry a Colt .45 automatic and before you say “that’s too much gun for a skirt” let me advise you of your rights: you have the right to shut the hell up or I’ll shoot your lips off. And I can hit you from a damn good distance. For added insurance I keep a derringer strapped to the inside of my left thigh, just in case. A girl can’t never have too much insurance these days and most wise guys will clam right up once you show ’em the artillery.

I caught a cab the eight blocks or so to Water Street. Call me lazy if you like but by three that afternoon the temperature had dropped to minus-minus and there was no way I was walking it. The driver was nice enough – young and cute, just the way I like ’em – and his conversation was so pleasant that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to get out. I passed him my calling card along with the fare and a nice tip that hopefully would pique more than just his interest. “Call me sometime.”

I caught a cab...

He grinned when he saw the money, but his face just about split in two when he saw the card. “You got me wrong, lady.”

“Why?” I asked. “You spoken for? Or maybe you prefer to keep out of the struggle buggy – is that it?”

He was young and cute, just the way I like 'em...

“In a manner of speaking.” He had dimples, right where they should have been. “It ain’t what you think but I’m as clammed as they come…and thanks for the lettuce.”

The cafe was quiet, just like he’d said on the phone: there was a guy wiping down the bar and another guy sitting at a back table, pretending to read the newspaper. A radio was playing, low in the background: Why Don’t You Do Right? and the girl singer was giving it her best Bessie Smith. I sidled up to the bar and the dish with the wet rag gave me a smile I felt in my kneecaps. “What’ll it be, lady?”

“How about a double shot of you with a beer back?” I presented my card. “Here’s my little breath-saver. Somebody called me earlier today, said you guys were having a problem.”

“Oh, yeah, that’d be the boss.” He nodded to the guy at the back table. “Hey, Jack – lady here to see you.”

He stuck the newspaper under his arm and came over to meet me. He didn’t look scared, exactly – but he looked like a guy who’d had a bad shock. He was maybe forty, with wavy dark hair and big brown eyes, and he was nicely dressed in a shirt and tie. I guessed they liked to do it up classy in this joint. “Jack Stoyles.” His grip was nice and firm and I held on maybe a few seconds longer than I should. “We can talk in my office, if you don’t mind?”

“Sure.” I winked at him. “Maybe we better leave the door open. I’d hate for Mother to worry about me.”

He must have really been behind the 8-ball; he didn’t even crack a smile. “Right here. Please, have a seat.” The office was little more than a small room at the back of the cafe, outfitted with a desk and chairs, a lamp, an old army cot, some bookshelves, filing cabinets, floor safe, the usual stuff. On the wall behind his head there was a painting of a frail in desperate need of clothes, only that didn’t seem to bother her any, and an overflowing ash tray pinned down the corner of his desk. He reached into the bottom drawer of the desk and brought up a fifth of bourbon and two glasses. “Drink?”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

He didn’t laugh. “I have a really big problem.” He rubbed a shaking hand over his face. He looked like he wanted to cry.

“I’ll help in whatever way I can.” It struck me that what he needed most was a soft shoulder to cry on – not some dame he hardly knew to be cracking wise. I reached across the desk and laid my hand on his. “Please tell me how I can help.”

“They took him.” He inhaled, a sound like a sob. “I got the letter this morning. They’ll kill him if I don’t pay up.”

…to be continued in Our Very Next Issue

*gumheel: if a male shamus is a gumSHOE a female detective is a gumHEEL, correct? 😉

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