Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Miss the Old P.I. Serials? The Conclusion of - The Case of the Guilty Grocer



The Wakeup Call

In my line of work, waking up before ten is an occupational hazard. My workday runs late. And at the end of the day I’m just like any other palooka. I end up in a gin mill drinkin’ bourbon and chasin’ dames.
I’m a shamus. Sloane’s the name. Greyson Sloane. And today started earlier than most days—before ten. I hears this ringing like. I thought it was a dream, but it’s the blower. I never invested in one o’ them fancy answerin’ gizmos. Not for this flop anyways. I dropped a bundle on one for the office. Sometimes Arlene is late too. But not today. I reaches over and grabs the phone.
“What’s shakin’, Kiddo?”
     “Get up Greyson. I just got a call.”
     “It’s ain’t one o’ my ex-wives, is it? I told you to say I was outta town.”
     “No, not your ex-wives. You’ve got a case.”
     “Aw c’mon on, Arlene. It ain’t even nine yet.”
     “Listen, dude. You haven’t paid me in three weeks and I got rent.”
     “I thought you’da got an inkling by now.”
“C’mon, Greyson. This sounds like real money. Up and at ‘em.”
Arlene was a great gal. A little bossy sometimes, but a good secretary. And she works cheap. A good thing in my business. When I found her she was a hoofer down at the corner joint. She had the gams for it and a great chassis to boot. But the joint was a dive. Served rotgut hooch. No place for a nice kid like her.
Arlene was right. I ain’t had a moneymaker for a month or so. And tailin’ gold-diggers and wayward wives ain’t payin’ the bills. So I crawls into the shower to sober up. An hour later, I walks into the office.

“Well it’s about time. You look like hell, Greyson,” she says.
I toss my fedora on the coat rack and loosen my tie. 
     “Everything’s copacetic. How about a cup of joe?” I says.
“Joe? … You mean coffee?”
“Yeah, you know. Java.”
Why do you talk like that?”
“Why do I talk like what?”
“Never mind. I think you read too many pulp mysteries when you were a kid.”
“So what’s so important you gotta get me up so early?”
      “You have an appointment in one hour. A Mister Wexler called. Seems he needs someone discrete. Why he called you, I’ll never know.”
      “Whaddaya kiddin’? I’m discrete. Usually. What’s it about?”
      “Dunno. He didn’t say. He just said if you want the job, be at this address by eleven o’clock. Says he’ll pay top dollar.”
      Top dollar. That sounds just about right. Arlene hands me a piece of paper. On it is an address. North Charles St. Baltimore.
      “I know where this is. Wexler, you say?”
      “Yeah. That’s right.”
      “Why does that sound familiar? Eh, it’ll come to me. Hey Arlene, lend me a couple o’ simoleans, will ya? I’m low on petrol.”

If I had any doubts about this new client, they took a hike when I steps in his office. I walks up to the receptionist. The bird was a real looker; long blonde hair, big blue eyes and nice bubs.
      “May I help you, sir?”
      I push my fedora back on my head. “Yeah, Doll. Name’s Sloane. Greyson Sloane. I got an appointment with Mister—”
      “Just a moment, Mister Sloane. Mister Wexler is expecting you.”
      That don’t happen much. I ain’t used to folks expectin’ me. The skirt picks up the blower and a minute later says, “Mister Wexler will see you now. If you’ll please follow me.”
      She sashays down the hall with me in tow and gives me a good gander. She stops at this big oak door, see? Then she turns and gives me the once over. She bats those baby-blues and holds the door open.
      “This way, Mis-ter Sloane.”
      “Thanks Doll.”
      “You’re welcome … Mis-ter Sloane. Why don’t you stop and see me on your way out.”
      She turns and heads back to her desk with a little extra sashay in her caboose.
I smiles to myself and walks into this office. At least I think it was an office. It was flashy, like one o’ them swanky houses you see in those high-hat magazines. Across the room there’s this new fangled Hi-Def big screen and all the gizmos that go with it. Satellite tuner, DVR … and these huge speakers you could hide a stiff in. To the left of that was a bar that was ten feet if it was an inch. There was more booze than I’d seen in a long time. I stops to look around, then I hears this voice.     
     “Mister Sloane. Thank you for coming.”
     I turns and sees this suit standin’ behind me. A real Joe Brooks.     
“You Wexler?”
     “Yes, Mister Sloane. I am Abraham Wexler. Please … have a seat.” He motions to the bar. I didn’t see a desk anywhere.
     “Care for a drink, Mister Sloane?”
     My head was still poundin’ from last night. A little hair of the dog might help, but I think it better I don’t mix business and pleasure. Except maybe for the secretary.
     “Maybe another time.”
“Let me get straight to the point then,” he says. “I have a problem. And I don’t want the police involved.”
     “Well then,” I says. “That’s the rub, ain’t it?”
“Yes. That’s ‘the rub,’ as you say. Harris Hastings, my ex-partner, hired you a couple of years ago to handle a delicate situation. As I remember you did an excellent job.”
That’s when the lights came on. I remembered the Hastings case. He got spifficated one night and picked up a quiff for some quick nookie. She took him to some fleabag motel. He passed out and she hightailed it with his wallet. When she realized who he was she tried to blackmail him; said she’d tell his wife. She sent some small-time hood for the pick up. The bimbo knock Hastings around some for kicks. Hastings hired me to find her. Took me two days to locate her. She disappeared a week later. The cops found the hood facedown in the Patapsco. Fished him from the Inner Harbor near the USS Constellation.   
“Now I know you,” I says. “You own that food chain. H&W Groceries, right?”
“Yes, that’s right, Mister Sloane. Hasting disappeared last year under … suspicious circumstances, shall we say?”
Wexler takes off his cheaters, cleans ‘em with his hanky and put’s ‘em back on. After dabbin’ his receding hairline, he stuffs the mop back in his pocket. He sweat a lot for a man in an air-conditioned room.
“Now I own it all. And that brings me to the subject at hand.”
“I’m all ears, Mister Wexler.”
“Someone is out to destroy me.” 

Twenty minutes later, we pulls up to one o’ his stores. The parkin’ lot is empty and there’s no customers. The place is a ghost town. He unlocks the doors and I follows him to a food aisle. We turns the corner. There, on the floor, are Kix and Cheerios, Wheaties and Captain Crunch; crushed on the green and white linoleum tiles; their boxes torn to shreds. I picks up an empty Rice Krispies box by the top flap real careful like. I sees diagonal slashes made by a machete maybe. All the boxes have the same gashes; their contents spilled across the floor.
     “What gives?” I says.
     “That’s what I’ve hired you to find out, Mister Sloane.”
     I drops the box and reaches for the Winstons in my vest pocket. Flipping a butt from the pack, I strikes the Zippo. It ain’t got no fluid so I use a match. I look at Wexler and says, “You find anything else like this? Can goods? Produce? Frozen foods?” I shakes the match ‘til it goes out.
     “No. The rest of the store is untouched. The manager found it like this when he opened up this morning. And you know there’s a law against smoking indoors, Mister Sloane.”
     I push my fedora back, takes another drag and looks him in the eye. “Anybody got a beef with you, Mister Wexler?”
     “A what?”
     “A beef. You know. A problem? A disagreement?”
     “Ah, yes. Hastings said you had a colorful way of speaking. Everyone has enemies, Mister Sloane. But no, not to my knowledge.”
     “So why hire a private dick? Why not just call the cops?”
     “Let’s just say I’d prefer to handle it quietly.”
     I give Wexler the eye. He’s givin’ me the run-around and I know it. But about what? What could give this egg the heebie-jeebies? He’s got more dough then First National. I decides I gotta press him.
     “Okay Mister Wexler. But before I take this case, you gotta’ level with me. Other than costin’ you a couple o’ clams to replace the stock, how’s this hurt you?”
     Wexler started shiftin’ back and forth kinda jumpy like. He pulls his hanky and wipes his forehead again. “This happened in three other stores. This is the fourth. You’ve got to find the person responsible or I’ll be ruined. Customers will shop elsewhere out of fear. Suppliers will stop doing business with me before they too, become targets. If I involve the police, it’ll get out to the newspapers. Then everyone will know. I can’t risk it.”
     It suddenly dawns on me what he was sayin’. I’ve seen cases like this before, but this was gonna be a tough one. And dangerous. But I need the money. So in spite of the danger I take the case. My gut tells me there’s more to this than meets the eye. More than just some crushed Coco Krispies. And whoever this is … he ain’t your average cereal killer. 


The Setup

Before we leave the store, I decides to do some snoopin’. I sees security cameras. I ask Wexler for the film to keep him busy. While he’s gone, I walks around, see? I do that to think things out. Ain’t nothin’ else in the store been touched. Just the cereal. If somebody’s tryin’ to put him outta business, they’da torched the whole place and been done with it. Why just the cereal?   
     Wexler catches up to me in the seafood section. “Mister Sloane,” he says. “Here are the security tapes you wanted.”
     “Thanks,” I says. I picks up one o’ them store fliers from the rack and opens it. I take the films and wraps ‘em in the paper so I don’t get my prints on ’em. Wexler’s expression ain’t what it oughta be. He ain’t askin’ no questions, like if I think the film’ll be any use. Like he already knows. Wexler ain’t levelin’ with me. That excuse he gave me for not callin’ the cops is baloney. I know a line when I hear one. Somethin’s fishy, and it ain’t the Halibut.

I ain’t never been in a limo much. Counting the trips to and from the crime scene, this makes two. We goes up to Wexler’s office to seal the deal. I’da taken a handshake, but I wanted my usual week-in-advance. Three-hundred a day plus expenses. Cash on the barrel. I steps into the elevator and press the Lobby button. Half-hour later I walks into my office.
     “Hi, Doll. Ain’t it past your quittin’ time?”
     “I was waiting for you. And would you please stop calling me ‘Doll.’”
     “Okay … okay. When you turn into such a Deb anyway? Look, here’s some dough. Go pay your rent.”
     “Thanks. So, what’s this about?”
     “The damnedest thing I ever saw, Arlene. Somebody’s breakin’ into Wexler’s stores and tearin’ up the cereal. Slashin’ boxes with a shiv. I can’t figure it.”
     “Maybe they’re looking for the free prize.”
     “Very funny. Listen, I gotta go and look at this film.”
“Video tapes, Greyson. They’re called video tapes.”
     “Yeah, yeah. Listen, I need you back tomorrow early, okay?”
     “You mean like, before ten early?”

Arlene heads home and I spends the night lookin’ at these “tapes.” Nothin’ moves. Then all of a sudden like, cereal’s all over the floor. Then I sees this gap in the time display between three-forty-five and four-thirty. That means somebody turned off the camera—but more ‘n that—they turned it back on again. And the film coverin’ the entrance is blank. I ain’t talking erased here. I’m talkin’ brand new … unused. I decides to see Wexler in the morning. I need some answers.

Wasn’t much sense goin’ home, so I sleeps on the couch. The next mornin’, the door creakin’ wakes me up.
     “Hey, Arlene.”
“Have you been here all night?”
“Ab-so-lute-ly. Listen, Doll. Take that film to O’Riley. Get her to dust ‘em for prints.”
“Why do you only go to her? You have a lot of buddies at the precinct.”
“So what’s the big deal?”
“It’s pretty obvious she has a thing for you.”
     “A what?”
     “A thing. You know … an infatuation?—oh, a crush … for God’s sake.”  
     “It ain’t like that with me an’ her, see? She’s a flatfoot. I’m a dick.”
     “You can say that again.”
     “Hey! … Whaddaya mean by that?”
     “Nothing, Greyson. But did it ever occur to you—”
     “I ain’t got time for this, Arlene. Go ahead, scram. I got work to do.”

I’m almost out the door when the phone rings. It’s Beulah, Wexler’s secretary.
     “Good morning, Mis-ter Sloane.”
     “Hey, Doll. What can I do for you?”
     “Plenty, I’m sure. But we can talk about that another time. Mister Wexler wants to speak to you. Just a minute, please.”
Wexler comes on the line and tells me another store was hit. He wants me to meet him there.

After checkin’ out the store, we heads back to Wexler’s office. I figure it’s the best place to get some answers. This new breakin’s got the same MO. Wexler gets me the security film, but I’m thinkin’ it’s the same like before. I decides to shake him down.
     “Tell me, Mister Wexler, who’s got access to the films?”
     “Only me. Why do you ask?”
     “Because one’s blank. The one pointin’ at the entrance. And there’s a new label on it. Not smudged up like the others. Can you explain that?”
     “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
     “Can’t? Or won’t.”
     “Mister Sloane, I don’t think I like your tone—”     
“Are you tellin’ me you spent a bundle on a security system only you control, but you can’t tell me why there’s a forty-five minute hole in the film that shows who this thug is?”
“No. I can’t. Now it you’re quite finis—”
     “You got alarm systems, right?”
     “Who monitors the stores?”

On the way out, Beulah stops me at the door.
     “I overheard your conversation with Mister Wexler. You don’t suspect him, do you? … Mis-ter Sloane?”
     I don’t get a chance to answer. She grabs my mitt, see? She puts a piece of paper in it, folded real pretty like. It smells like her. She closes my fingers so I don’t drop it. Then she gets an eyelash away from me and locks on those baby-blues.
“You know, Mis-ter Sloane. I’m not busy tonight.”

I gets back to the office and I’m thinkin’ about takin’ a little time for myself tonight. Arlene’s waitin’. I tell her Ace Security is e-mailin’ her the entry logs. I don’t know from nothin’ ‘bout computers. I leaves that to Arlene. She knows her onions. I tell her to keep an eye out.
     “So, what O’Riley say?”
     “She said she hasn’t heard from you in a while.” Arlene’s got this kinda grudge in her voice.
     “Not that. About the prints.”
     “There’s only one set.”
     “And I’d bet six-two-and-even they’re Wexler’s.”
     A couple o’ hours later, Arlene says she’s got the alarm logs. I looks ‘em over. There are three codes recorded: the day manager’s, the night manager’s, and Wexler’s. Except Wexler’s entries are in the middle of the night. Is it possible he don’t know about the entry logs? Or is he settin’ me up? I decides to get the inside scoop on Wexler. I picks up the blower.
     “Beulah? Hi, Doll. It’s Sloane. What time should I pick you up? Eight? Yeah. That’ll be swell.”

Later, I’m lookin’ over the second set o’ tapes and the phones rings. It’s Beulah.
     “Greyson, I’m still at work. I had to finish some last minute things. Can you pick me up here?”
     When I gets there, it’s about eight-ten. The whole buildin’s empty. I knocks on the door. Beulah opens it lookin’ like a million bucks. She leans in and gives me a peck on the cheek.
     “Come in, Greyson. I’m just finishing up. Can I make you a drink?”
     “Yeah, sure. You alone?”
     “Yes. Mister Wexler’s left for the evening. He and his wife are attending a charity dinner tonight. So, what do you like?”
     "Scotch’ll do.”
     She gives me a smile and says, “Follow me.”     
     We walks into Wexler’s office. I heads for the bar.
     “Oh, no Greyson,” she says. She’s got this little giggle in her voice, like she knows somethin’ I don’t. “That’s for suppliers. The good stuff is in here.”
     We walks through a door labeled “Private.” Then we steps into a small office. It’s got a couch, a big oak desk with a computer, and a full sized filing cabinet. She moves to a small bar and motions me over.
“What’ll it be?”
     “The malt looks good.”
     “On the rocks?”
     She pours me a drink, see? Then she cuddles real close like. “Make yourself comfortable, Greyson. I have to powder my nose.”
     I start nosin’ around a little. Figure I’d take the opportunity. I walks to the desk to see what I can see. The drawers are locked … except the top left. In it I finds insurance claims, police reports and deposit slips for millions to a numbered account in the Caymans; all signed by Wexler.
     Police reports? He said no police. What’s he tryin’ to pull? I hear Beulah comin’ back. I closes the drawer and hurries my keister to the sofa. She walks in wear nothin’ but big hoopy earrings and a smile. She pours herself a drink while I picks my jaw off the floor. Then she opens a door near the bar. Inside is the biggest bed I ever saw.
     “So,” she says, “what would you like to do tonight?”


The Warning

So I spends the night with Beulah in Wexler’s secret office. I gotta say she was real persuasive. After I gets to know her, I gets to know her. She’s a knockout, but she ain’t hittin’ on all six. A real Dora. Plus, she didn’t know from nothin’ about Wexler. Only been workin’ there a couple o’ weeks, she says. So I figures I gotta check out the paperwork. Somethin’ don’t add up. An’ I’m thinkin’ somebody’s usin’ me for a patsy. First thing I gotta do is call O’Riley and check out them reports,  but I gotta stop by my office first.

I park my jalopy behind my office and hike it up the stairs.
     “Hi, Doll,” I says to Arlene and toss my fedora on the rack.    
     “Greyson! You have to listen to this!”
     “Listen to what?”
     “This message! It was here when I opened up.”
     She presses a button on her answerin’ gizmo and looks at me all worried. A funny soundin’ voice starts talkin’.
     “If you know what’s good for you, Sloane, you’ll drop the case.”
     I pull a ciggy from the pack and light it, then flip the Zippo closed. Now it’s getting interestin’. Some mug makin’ threats means somebody’s getting’ nervous. I just wish I knew why.
     “What does it mean, Greyson?”
     “Don’t mean nothin’, Doll.”
     “Greyson, please tell me what he meant. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
     You coulda knocked me over with a feather. Arlene was worried. And not justa “oh be careful” worry. It was more than that. I think the kid’s got a crush on me.
     “Aw, Arlene, don’t go havin’ a kitten. It’s just some small-time punk tryin’ to throw a scare in me. Everything’s jake. Besides, with that voice, I’ll know him as soon as he opens his kisser.
     “Greyson … he used a voice scrambler! He doesn’t really sound like that.”
     “You talkin’ ‘bout one o’ those phone gizmos I see on TV? They’re real?”
     “YES, they’re real! Where have you been? Now I’m really worried!”
     I gotta admit … this was kinda nifty. I ain’t never had nobody worryin’ ‘bout me before. I decides to play it up.
     “Aw Arlene, the guy’s just blowin’ static. Ain’t nothin’ to it. I think tomorrow I’ll shake him down and find out who he’s workin’ for. Get some answers.”
     If looks could kill, I’d be a dead man. She was getting’ red in the face and her lips pressed tight. I ain’t never noticed how pretty they were.
     “You’ll shake him down? How the hell are you going to do that? You don’t know who he is!”
     I smile, see? That just makes her madder. I points to the phone. “You know, Arlene, I bet that Caller ID thing is real, too. Ain’t it?”
     I sees her face soften and then a little smile. I gives her a wink.
     “I hate you,” she says.
     “Yeah, yeah,” I says, grinnin’ like a Cheshire cat. “How ‘bout lookin’ up the address on that fancy ‘puter of yours?”

Arlene gets the address and I finds myself in front of some run-down joint half-a-bock from Wexler’s office. I had a mind to drop by and see Beulah, but decided better. This was my only lead, other than the paperwork in Wexler’s desk.
     I didn’t bring my heater. I usually brought the .38 snub-nosed if I thought I’d need it. I ain’t feelin’ that today. I opens the door and walks in. The joint’s dark—like a speakeasy or a hop joint. Except the liquor’s legal and I don’t smell no opium. I go to the payphone and checks the number. It’s the one I’m lookin’ for. Pinned to the wall next to the phone I sees a business card. Written in a woman’s handwriting is my name. The card belongs to some palooka named Otto Smythson; Influential Insurance, Inc. I stuff the card in my vest pocket.
     I walks to the bar and pulls up a stool. I order a soda water.
     “We’re not open yet,” the gorilla behind the bar says.
     “Fine. I’ll just have some information then. My name is Sloane. I’m a private—”
     “You got some cahonies comin’ in here like you own the place, Sloane. You’d do well to leave … while you still can.”
     Something told me I made a mistake. I shoulda brought the heater.
He picks up a draft beer glass by the rim and dumps out the beer. Then he squeezes the glass ‘til it shatters. He opens his hand and shows me. There ain’t no cuts, no blood … no nothin’. I figures I didn’t need the heater after all. Shooting him woulda just made him mad.
     “Listen, friend. I just wanna know who called me from here yesterd—”
     The next thing I know I’m flyin’ through the door. I takes out a municipal trashcan before I rolls to a stop.
     “Okay!” I yells. “I get the message.” I picks myself up and grabs my fedora off the sidewalk. Then I checks to make sure I still have the card.    

I gotta go see O’Riley about them reports. I stops home and cleans up first. She was just gettin’ back from lunch when I gets there. Colleen’s real easy on the peepers. Long red hair, green eyes, a couple o’ freckles, nice chassis. ‘Bout five-six and dressed in a blue, pinstripe suit. I walks in and gets the icy mitt.
     “Well, at least you came in person this time,” she says. “What do you want now?”
     Not exactly the reception I was lookin’ for. She said it with that tone like I was a wet blanket or somethin’. It ain’t always been like that ‘tween me and her, see? I guess she’s still carryin’ that torch.
“What’s eatin’ you, Colleen?”
“I never see you anymore. You always send that … that … girl.”
“She just works for me, Colleen.”
“She’s too young for you.”
“Aw, lay off, Colleen. Ain’t nothin’ to it  I tell ya.”
After she makes me crawl some, she asks what I want. I asks her about the police reports. She looks in her computer.
“Nothing for H&W Groceries.”
“You levelin’ with me Colleen? “
“Look for yourself.” She spins the screen around so I can see. There ain’t nothin’ for H&W Groceries over the last year.
“Rhatz! Okay, thanks Colleen.” I gets up to leave.
“So, Greyson. Are you ever going to call me?”
“Yeah, sure, Colleen. As soon as I close this case.”
“I won’t hold my breath.”
“Gotta go, Colleen. Don’t take any wooden nickels.” I looks back at her before turnin’ down the hallway. Her face said it all.
Jerk …

Since the police reports I saw in Wexler’s desk ain’t on the up and up, I decides to check out the insurance claims Wexler didn’t tell me about.
The next morning, I heads to Influential Insurance, Inc. I walks into this crackerjack-box of an office. I don’t see nothin’ on the wood paneled walls ‘cept an accounting diploma. The desk is neater than any man’s should be and there’s a picture of Smythson and his mother front and center. The guy’s an Ethel. A real Wally Cox. I gotta wonder a little, ya know? I tells him I’m workin’ this case, see? I asks him about the insurance claims.
     “Oh, yes, Mister Sloane. Mister Wexler’s fully covered for damages due to flood, fire, burglary, vandalism, natural disasters and the like. We have fully compensated him for his recent losses.”
     “How much?”
     “I’m sorry; I’m not at liberty to say. Why do you want to know?”
     “That’s confidential. How many claims did he file?”
     “Well, I see no harm in divulging that information. We have paid claims for all fifty stores. Seems he’s had a run of bad luck, lately.”
     “Yeah, so Beulah tells me.”
     I watch his eyes get this dreamy kind of look, like he’s drifting off to some tropical island somewhere. Then he clears his throat and snaps out of it.
     “Ah, yes. Well … if there’s nothing else…”
     “I think I got everything I need. Thanks.”
     As I’m walkin’ back to my hayburner I gets to thinkin’. He got all goofy when I said Beulah’s name. I gotta think there’s somethin’ to that. I puts it in the back of my noggin and stops at a pay phone. I drops in two bits.
     “Greyson Sloane, Private Investigator,” Arlene says.
     “Hi, Doll. Any calls?”
     “There was one from your third ex-wife. She wants to know when you’re going to pay…”
     “Not now, Arlene. She’s always flappin’ her gums. I mean I just paid her three months ago. Listen, Doll. Can you use that interweb thing to check on numbered accounts in the Caymans?”
     “Inter-net, Grayson. It’s called the inter-net.”
     “That’s what I said. Well, can you?”
     “Shouldn’t be too much trouble. Do you have the account number?”
     I rattled off two account numbers I remembered seeing at Wexler’s place. I got this memory, see?
     “I don’t think I can verify amounts,” she says.
     “Just see if they’re real. Drop fifty bucks into ‘em if you have to.”
     “Well, aren’t you the big spender.”
     “Aw lay off, Arlene. I ain’t made o’ money.”
     “You’re telling me?”
     “Just find out about them accounts. I’ll be back in the off…”
     “Oh! Hold on. There’s another call coming in.”
     Arlene puts me on hold, then a few seconds later, she comes back. She ain’t happy.
“That!—was Beulah! Seems you left your cufflink at her place the other night!”

Cufflink? Before I can get a word out, Arlene slams down the phone. Dames. I drops another quarter in the blower and dials a number.
     “Hey, Colleen. It’s Sloane. What’s shakin’?”
     “Wellll… I don’t hear from you for a month and now here you are—two days in a row. What do you want this time?”
     “Oh, nothin’. I was just wonderin’ what you were doin’ for lunch.”

An hour later I meets Colleen at the local greasy spoon. I wanna get her take on things. I spots her right away when I walks in. She sits down across from me in the booth and I decides to ease into it. I hold off till the waitress brings her chocolate malt, then I tells her about the phony police reports, the insurance claims and the numbered accounts.
     “Sounds like an insurance scam to me,” she says.
     “Yeah,” I says. “But I can’t figure why he’d hire me in the first place. He’s gotta know I’d figure it out.”
     “Come on, Greyson,” she says. “You’re not all that good.”
     I gives her this look.
     “Well, at detective work anyway.” She gives me this grin, see?
     “I do okay.”
     “Tell you what I think. I think hiring you is a facade.”
     “A what?”
     “A smoke screen. A diversion to take the heat off him. He’s using you to make it look legit … to keep the cops out of it.”
     “Makes sense. He did say no cops.”
     “Play his game. When you find out about the accounts, let me know. I can move on him once we have the evidence.”
     “You ain’t getting’ nothin’ from those off-shore banks, Colleen.”
     “Don’t have to. The account statements will be enough to put him away.”
     “I think he has an accomplice. The insurance adjustor, Smythson. He verified the insurance claims.”
     “We’ll get him too. Just keep me informed.”
     “Thanks, Colleen.”
     “You know, Greyson, if you really wanted to thank me …”
     I don’t say nothin’, but I sees this look in her eyes.
     “My place is just around the corner. I could take the rest of the day off.”
Man! The things a fella’s gotta do to make a living in this business.


The Puzzle

The morning after the night before with Colleen, I’m up an’ out before dawn. Gettin’ up early is easy when you ain’t spent the night drinkin’. She’s still sleepin’ when I tiptoe out the door. I’m goin’ over the case in my head walkin’ the three blocks back to my jalopy. When I turns the corner, I sees the red flag on the parkin’ meter and a ticket on the windshield. I picks it up.
     “Aw, fer cryin’ out loud … seventy-five clams? This is highway robbery! I ain’t got that kinda dough!”
     Then I sees a couple o’ shopkeeps starin’ at me. I unlocks the car an’ gets in. I toss the ticket on the seat and heads home for a shower and a set of fresh duds. I figures I’ll get O’Riley to put in the fix. It’s the least she can do after last night.                 

After I spends an hour at home, I heads to the office tryin’ to fit the pieces together. The phony reports, the claims and the numbered accounts add up to a con like O’Riley says, but I still can’t figure the cereal angle, or who made the call luring me to that dive. And it ain’t that baby grand behind the bar who gave me the bum’s rush out the door. If it was, he’da busted me up good. Naw, he’s workin’ for somebody. He was just deliverin’ a message. But somebody wanted me to find that business card, see? Now I gotta figure somebody’s got a beef with that guy Smythson. His signature’s all over those insurance claims for millions. Claims Wexler didn’t tell me about. Maybe Smythson opened those accounts and cooked up those phony police reports, too. And maybe … he double-crossed somebody.

I’m still ponderin’ all this when I unlocks the door to the office. Arlene ain’t in yet and I gotta figure she’s still all steamed up about Beulah’s call yesterday. I ain’t never heard her with her panties in a twist like that. She’ll give me an earful when she gets in, that’s for sure. I guess I oughta be nice to her. I don’t wanna hafta get another secretary.
I toss my fedora on the rack and start a pot of joe when the blower rings. I figure its Arlene tellin’ me she’s quittin’. So I get myself ready to do some serious groveling and offer her a raise, but it wasn’t Arlene.
“Greyson?” I recognized O’Riley’s voice.
“Yeah, Doll. What’s shakin’?”
“Why?” she says. “Why do you talk like that?”
“How come people keep askin’ me that?”
“Maybe because that style of slang went out in the forties.”
“It did?”
“Unbelievable…. Listen, Greyson. What was that insurance adjuster’s name? The one you told me about. The one on the case you’re working.”
“Smythson? You talkin’ ‘bout him? Why ya wanna know?”
“Because homicide pulled him from the Patapsco last night. A couple of beat cops found him floating face down … two shots in the heart from close range. .25 caliber rounds. I wanted to make sure it was the same guy. Seems you’re on to something here.”

“Oh, that’s just ducky. I get the goods on this bozo and you’re tellin’ me somebody bumped him off? You sure it’s him?”
“Positive ID. Looks like I’m going to have to take over your case.”
“What? Whadda ya talkin’ about? That’s all wet, Colleen.”
“Sorry, Greyson. It’s out of my hands.”
“C’mon, Colleen. I can wrap this up in a day.”
“Ain’t happening.”
“Twenty-four hours. That’s all I ask. You ain’t gettin’ the autopsy report before that an’ you know it.”
“I can’t swing it, Greyson. Sorry.”
“Look. All I’m askin’ is you drag your feet a little, see?” 
I figure it’s gonna take a little sweet-talkin’ to convince her. 
“Colleen, you had a good time last night, didn’t ya?”
“Well … yessss. A very good time.”
“And you know I did, too. And you know I want to have another good time real soon. And if you give me twenty-four hours, I’ll wrap this caper, hand you the goods and you get the collar. You know I can’t arrest nobody, so I know, you know, I need you. I ain’t gonna call some palooka before I call you. You know that, right?”
There was a pause on her end of the line and I hear her breathin’ gettin’ kinda heavy. She was thinkin’ about last night. And she was thinkin’ ‘bout givin’ me the time I wanted. All I needed to do now was give her a little nudge.
“You know? … I was thinkin’ ‘bout last year when I took you to Ocean City for the weekend. Remember we sneaks into the hot tub in the middle of the night? We takes off our bathing sui…”
“Oh all right! You win! Twenty-four hours. But you owe me big time, Sloane … and I fully expect to collect—very, very, soon.”

I was just hangin’ up the blower when Arlene walks in. She ain’t lookin’ at me. She had this long face I ain’t never seen before, see? Then she sits down at her desk. She starts with these deep sighs and shiftin’ in the chair and rustlin’ through papers; but she was just goin’ through the motions. I think I really hurt her feelin’s.
“Wanna cup of joe?” I says.
“No thanks.”
“It’s fresh. I just made it.”
“No. No thank you.”
“It ain’t what you think, Arlene. I’m on a case, remember?” I hate lyin’ to the kid, but O’Riley is right. She’s too young for me. She could be my kid sister.
“No need to explain, Greyson. I know I’m just your secretary and it’s none of my business what you do or who you do it with. I’m fine. Really.”
She looks up at me with those sad green eyes. They tells me she’s lyin’, too. She ain’t fine. She may as well have jammed a shiv in my ticker. Talk about guilt. But what can I do? I ain’t the kinda guy she needs to get hooked up with. She deserves better. She needs somebody her own age. Somebody settled. Not a drugstore cowboy like me. I wanna make her feel better, but the only way I know to do that is hug her, and that’s the last thing I oughtta do. It’ll send the wrong message. Better to let her work through this on her own. 
“Alright, Arlene. So whatcha find out about the off-shore accounts?”
She takes a deep breath and pulls up a file on her computer. “I did manage to get the amounts yesterday using a hacker package. Between the two accounts numbers you gave me, the combined total is over seventy-five million. That’s a whole lot of cereal.”
“Damn! I was thinkin’ the statements I saw at Wexler’s were bogus. You sure?”
“See for yourself.” 
I walks behind her and leans in, careful not to touch her or brush my arm against her’s or nothin’. She’s on her way back to normal and I ain’t gonna slow her down. She opens up one of those browser things and points to the balance in the first account. Thirty-seven million dollars. 
“And there’s three other accounts I couldn’t see the numbers for,” I says. “Beulah walked back in too soo…” 
… Rhatz! Why did I say that? 
Arlene’s shoulders drooped, but then she perked up again shakin’ it off.
“Sorry, Arlene.”
“For what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She’s a good kid. She pulls up the other account and shows me the balance. Together, they’re over seventy-five million simoleans. I needs to see those statements at Wexler’s again. All of them, see? And the only way I was gonna do that was to see Beulah again. But what if they ain’t there no more? What if the drawer’s locked this time? I grabs my lock picks from the drawer, and then I grabs the blower.
“Mister Wexler’s office. May I help you?”
“Hi, Doll. It’s Sloane.”
“Hi, Grey-son. What a nice surprise. What can you do for me, today?” The giggle in her voice said it all.
“I was thinkin’ ‘maybe I might drop by later. Arlene says you found my cufflink.”
“I was hoping to see you again. But I have to put together a report for Mister Wexler. I should be finished in a couple of hours. Do … you want to come by here? I’ll make you another one of my special drinks … just like the last time.”
I feels my blood pressure startin’ to rise along with somethin’ else. “I was kinda thinkin’ that, yeah.”
“Eight o’clock?”

I knocks on the door at eight o'clock sharp, and Beulah opens it lookin' better than the last time I saw her with clothes on. The slit in the side of her skirt went almost all the way to her hip, and the plunging scoop in her blouse drags my eyes to it and ain’t lettin’ go. I hadda take a deep breath and close my peepers just to be able to look up at her face, see? Then, I can’t take my eyes off that either. Her lips had this wet pout to them and that blonde hair of hers was fallin’ across her left eye. It took everything I had to speak.
"What's shakin', Beulah?" 
She gives me a peck on the kisser and pulls me inside. Then she locks the door behind me, takes my hand and leads me into Wexler’s private office. The lights are low and there’s light jazz comin’ from everywhere. She locks the
door behind us, wraps her arms around my neck, and presses her body and lips to mine. Her bubs found my chest before her lips found my mouth. Now I ‘m havin’ trouble rememberin’ the real reason I’m here.
“Make yourself comfortable, Greyson.” She walks to the bar and makes me a drink without askin’ what to make. She brings me the scotch—neat,—gently takes my fedora off, kisses me again and hangs it on the rack. “I’ll be right back, Darling. Don’t leave.”
Leave? What … she kiddin’?
She’s gone maybe five minutes before I can stand back up. I strolls to Wexler’s desk and tries the drawer. It’s still unlocked. Everything is there. I have to force myself to concentrate, but I get everything—every number—and memorize them. Beulah’s takin’ longer than she did the last time so I do a little more snooping. 
Way in the back of the drawer, I find a piece. I use my hankie and pulls it out for a gand
er. It’s a .25 caliber revolver. I gives the barrel a sniff and can tell somebody used it not too long ago. Then a button on the phone lights up and the phone rings. I freeze. A minute later, the light goes out. I puts the .25 back and hurries to the couch. Beulah walks in buttonin' up her blouse.
“I’m sorry, Darling. That was my brother. He has an emergency and I have to leave. Can I give you a rain check? Say, tomorrow night?”
“Yeah, Doll, That’ll be fine. Do you need any help? Can I drive you?”
“Oh, yes … tomorrow night.” She giggled like she always does when she makes a joke. “You’re sweet, but no. I have a company car in the garage. Walk me?”
After tasting her lips one last time, I watches her drive away. I hate using her like this, but I’m running out of time. Maybe, when this is all over….

I ain't got time to wait for morning to check these accounts, see? And I can’t do it myself. I pulls over to a pay phone and dials Arlene’s number.
“Arlene … its Sloane. I need you to come in.”
“At this hour? Are you crazy? And why don’t you get a cell phone? I almost didn’t answer.”
“Don’t get in a lather, Arlene. This is important. I’m coming by to pick you up. You need to check the rest of those accounts.”
“Greyson, I don’t have to go to the office to do that. I can do it here, on my laptop.”
“Your what?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. Just come here, okay?”

I ain’t even gotta knock on the door. Arlene calls from the kitchen to come in. Says she’s makin’ coffee. I steps inside and closes the door. I ain’t never been inside her flop before. It’s on the second floor of a private home and has a private entrance on the side. It's nicer than mine, see? Inviting—with a dame’s touch. The lights are soft and the place smells like a florist shop. The rugs are plush and the furniture modern. I could sleep on either. The small portable TV's playin’ the news and they was talkin’ about the stiff the cops pulled from the river. 
“Here you are, Greyson. Now, what’s this all about?” Arlene said from behind me.
I turns to take the joe. Arlene’s got her hair down and it’s radiatin’ this kinda warm auburn glow cause o’ the backlightin' comin’ from the kitchen. She ain't wearin' nothin' on her feet, but she's got this beige, flannel nightshirt on that looks like one o’ mine—tails and all, and it’s too big for her. Her hair’s longer than I thought—since she always wears it up at work—reachin’ all the way to the small of her back. I just stares at her. Then I hears her repeatin’ the question.
“Oh … yeah. Right.” I says. “I need you to check these other accounts … three of ‘em. Get the amounts. I want to know how much money they got all together. Then I’m going to Wexler and confront him. That guy they pulled from the harbor today is the insurance adjuster involved in this, and I think Wexler killed him to keep him quiet.”
Arlene sits down at her machine and for some reason, I can’t take my eyes off her. I ain’t never seen her like this before. So mature, so grown up, so—beautiful. I gotta shake the thoughts outta my noggin’. 
“Let me have those numbers, one at a time.”
I says ‘em again. A few minutes later, she says, “You’re sure.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Give me the first two again. The ones from yesterday.”
She types in the numbers, scratches her head and sits back in the chair.
“What?” I says.
“The money. It’s gone.” 

The Payoff

I can only guess what I looked like with my yap gapin’ open like some Reuben off the turnip truck. It finally registered what Arlene said. The money was gone. Over seventy-five mill. Everything fell into place.
“Where’s the blower, Arlene?”
“The phone? Over there. So what happened? Where’s the money?”
Arlene seemed like her old self. Too bad, too. She was gettin’ pretty easy on the eyes. I pulls up a kitchen chair next to her's and flips it around backward so’s I can lean my arms on the back. I pushes my fedora back, lights a ciggy, and starts explainin’.
“It’s like this, Arlene. Ol’ man Wexler’s pullin’ a con … an insurance scam. Him and Smythson was in on it together. The way I sees it, Wexler trashed his own stores, or hired some goon to do to for him, see? That’s the only way it coulda happened. He had the keys and the alarm entry codes, and he controls the film system.
“Video system, Greyson. VID-E-O!”
“Will ya quit interuptin’ Arlene? So he ain’t fessin’ up … like he don’t know from nothin’ about how the films—the vid-e-o—was altered, but it hadda be him. Then I figures he gets Smythson to counterfeit up some police reports for the insurance claims. He does just enough damage to make it look legit.”
“The cereal?”
“Now you’re on the trolley.”
“Greyson, there haven’t been trolleys in Baltimore for fifty years.”
“I know that, Arlene. I meant … now you’ve got the picture … the right idea. Anyway, Wexler uses that so it looks like all his stores was gettin’ hit … like he’s the victim of a protection racket, see?”
“Yes … I think so.”
“So now Smythson moves the insurance payoffs to the Cayman’s. Numbered accounts. The Feds can’t touch ‘em.”
“But, there’s something I don’t understand. Why did Mister Wexler hire you, if it was him all along?”
“He was playin’me for a sap, Arlene. Hirin’ me makes him look like the victim, see? At first, I thought it was Smythson all by his lonesome. But when O’Riley called and said somebody took him for a ride, I had to figure he was the fall guy.”
“Why would they take Mister Smythson for a ride? Where would they go? You can’t drive to the Caymans and….”
“Aw fer cryin’ out loud, Arlene. Somebody bumped him off. Killed him … murdered. As in dead.”
“So when I sees the bogus paperwork and found the gun at Wexler’s office, it all fell into place.”         I see Arlene’s eyes drop and hears the hurt in her voice.
“I guess it was lucky you spent the night with Beulah, then....”
I puts my hand on her arm. A little white lie is better for her than the truth now.  
“Nothin’ happened, Arlene. Honest.”
She looks up and smiles a little. I want to get her mind off it so I keeps goin’. “So, Wexler double-crosses Smythson. Probably played him for a patsy all along. He kills him and takes all the dough. But there’s still a couple of things I can’t figure; the threatening phone call, that dive bar, and Smythson’s business card. I’m guessin’ Wexler tried to frame Smythson. Maybe he thought we’d pinch him and he’d have the money to himself. But we didn’t. So he had to bump him off. But now, the cash is gone an’ I gotta figure he’s makin’ his move. Now I gotta get O’Riley on it before he takes it on the lam. So, where’s the blow… Where’s the phone?”

I rolls into the office the next mornin’ wonderin’ where my next paycheck’s comin’ from. I doubts Wexler’s gonna pay me for throwin’ him in the hoosegow. But at least I got the advance and Arlene got to pay her rent. I figures I chalks this case up to experience. I toss my fedora on the rack, unbutton my vest and lights a smoke. I was makin’ a pot o’ joe when I sees the message light flashin’ on the answerin’ gizmo. I walks over and presses the switch.
“Hi, Greyson. This is Colleen. I thought I’d bring you up to speed on your case. After you called last night, which was quite a pleasant surprise I might add, we acquired a search warrant for Wexler’s office and found the phony documents and the pistol. His prints were all over them, and ballistics matched the slugs from Smythson’s body to the gun. We checked the Cayman accounts, but they were empty … except for a couple of hundred to hold them open. We also found a cufflink belonging to Smythson … matched one he had on when we fished him from the river ...”
I knew I wasn’t wearin’ no cufflinks when I saw Beulah that night. But there wasn’t no sense in tellin’ Arlene that. She wouldn’t believe me anyways. I figured it was Wexler’s and Beulah got it wrong, and I could use it as an excuse to get into the office again ... if I had to.
“Looks like your former employer masterminded the insurance scam and murdered Smythson to keep him quiet. Oh, he denied everything, of course … said he didn’t know anything about the money and never heard of Smythson. He’s down at Central Booking now.”
Arlene walks in on the tail end of O’Riley’s message and gives me that look. I ignores it. I presses the erase switch and strolls over to the coffee pot.
“Wanna cup o’ joe?” I says to Arlene.
“Please, Greyson … its coffee. Coffee! And no thanks.”
“What eatin’ you?”
“Nothing,” she says … which means, ‘somethin’.’”
 “Wha’d I do now?”
“You could have stayed last night.”
“I ain’t goin’ to no pettin’ party with you, Arlene and I ain’t robbin’ no cradle. You’re too young.”
“There’s only twenty-three years between us. My mother and father are nearly twenty years apar…”
I tunes her out when I hears a knock at the door. Arlene stops beatin’ her gums long enough to answer it.
“Is there a Mister Sloane here?” It’s a guy in a brown shirt wearin’ brown shorts drivin’ a big brown truck. And Arlene says I’m a bad dresser. I mean, the guy ain’t even got a hat. Arlene leads him to her desk and signs for the package, and the guy takes a hike. Then Arlene looks at me and I nods. She pulls the tab and reaches inside. There’s another envelope. A business envelope. She gives it a sniff.
“I think you better open it.”
I walks over, puts the joe on her desk and takes the envelope. It’s addressed to me in a woman’s handwritin'. It looked familiar. Then I gets a whiff of Beulah’s perfume. The envelope ain’t sealed and there’s a note inside:
        Martin’s Municipal Airport, Middle River. 10 A.M.
I looks at the clock. In rush hour traffic, I figures I can just make it. I tells Arlene I’ll be back in a couple o’ hours and beats it out the door.

On the way to the airport, I gets to thinkin’. I pulls the envelope from my inside pocket and looks at my name and the handwritin’. Then I gets Smythson’s business card from my wallet. My name’s written in the same hand. I still have Beulah’s note from when we met, so I looks at that too. It’s all the same. She wrote all three. I gotta figure Wexler used her to plant Smythson’s card in the bar and now she’s implicated in the murder. Hell, maybe she was part of it all along. Maybe she hustled Smythson, too; the way he got all goofy when I said her name. And with her looks, that ain’t much of a stretch.

I pulls into the airport and there’s only one plane on the tarmac. It’s a Lear jet. I sees this tall blonde standin’ by the plane’s stairs. I ain’t surprised to see it’s Beulah. I parks the car and strolls up.
“Hi, Doll. Goin’ someplace?”
“Greyson…. I was worried you wouldn’t make it. I’m so glad you came.”
“I think it’s time you leveled with me, Beulah.”
“Yes, I suppose it is. Why don’t you come with me? I’ll explain everything on the way.”
“Where ya goin’?”
“You’re in this up to your eyeballs, ain’t ya, Beautiful?”    
She gives me this sly smile, see? 
“You know, I could arrest you right here.”
Beulah takes a step and presses her body against mine. She reaches up, takes off my fedora and puts it on. Then she wraps her arms around my neck, pulls me close and kisses me hard and long. She steps back and smiles at me like a mother feelin’ sorry for her kid when she’s patchin’ him up.
“Darling … you can’t arrest me. You don’t have the authority. Besides, Rocco would never allow it.”
She gestures back toward the hatch. I looks up and sees the gorilla who tossed me from the bar fillin’ the doorway. He’s bigger than I remembers.
“My brother. I made him promise not to hurt you too bad when you went to the bar that day. He could have, you know … if he wanted”
I eyes him up again. “Ab-so-lute-ly.”
“I knew you wouldn’t come with me, Greyson, so I wanted to explain everything to you before I left. I really care for you and I didn’t want you to have the wrong idea about me.”
“I’m all ears, Doll.”
She bit her lower lip like she was tryin’ to decide where to start and I watched those blue eyes twinkle as they started tearin’ up.
“I never told you my last name … my real last name. It’s Hastings. Harris Hastings was my father. When he found himself in that black-mailing jam a couple of years ago, Wexler saw it as an opportunity to take the entire business for himself. My father was the majority owner, but Wexler wanted it all. He had my father killed and got away with it. I swore revenge. I planned this for years. Then, when I was ready, I walked into his office and applied for a job as his personal secretary. I was so young when he killed my father, he didn’t recognize me.”
I takes a gander at her chassis those bubs o’ hers. “Yeah, I can believe that,” I says.
“It didn’t take long before he trusted me completely. He gave me all the codes to the alarms and the surveillance systems for all the stores. He signed anything I put in front of him without reading it. That’s how I got his signature on the insurance claims and the phony police reports and the deposit slips for the Cayman banks.”
“How’d ya pull that off? I didn’t take Wexler for a sap.”
“The same way a secretary of three weeks rates a company car, Darling.” She ran her hands down her hourglass figure and across those shapely hips, batted those baby blues and smiled the sexiest smile I ever saw. 

“Get the picture?”
“Yeah. I guess I do.”
“I made him want me … always promised it. But he never had me. A smart woman can always avoid it when she wants to.”
 I was glad to hear that. 
“But I thought Smythson…”
“Smythson was … what do you call it? A patsy. Getting a momma’s boy like him to do anything I wanted was oh so easy. He thought we were going to run away to the Caymans together. He was the insurance adjuster when my father disappeared. Because they never found his body, he wouldn’t sign off on my father’s life insurance policy. He said my mother would have to wait seven years before the company considered him legally dead. She died before that happened. Since I wasn’t a beneficiary on the policy, they kept the money. I don’t feel bad about having Rocco kill him—the slimy little weasel. And framing Wexler for his murder was poetic justice the way I see it. I knew with an insurance scam Wexler would be out in a couple of years. I wanted him to rot in prison for the rest of his miserable life for killing my father.”
“And the cash?”
“I transferred it to another account in his name yesterday. I knew you’d have him arrested after you found the gun. Rocco used it on Smythson. I planted all the documents you found in his desk, too. Except for the account where I transferred the money. I also had Wexler sign over Power of Attorney to me. Now I have my father’s business back, plus the insurance scam money. But I’ll probably sell the business. I don’t really need it, you know.”
“So why me? Why’d Wexler hire me?”
“Because I told him to, Darling. You got my father out of that black-mail business and I knew I could trust you. You have a rare quality in a man, Greyson. Integrity. But, I didn’t foresee falling in love with you. Listen, maybe in a year or so…”
“That ain’t happenin’ Doll … knowin’ what you did.”
“No … I didn’t think so.”
Then Rocco calls to her, she looks at him and he gives her the high-sign. The Lear’s engines start spinnin’ up. She turns back to me.
“I feel horrible. Please don’t think badly of me, Greyson. I did it for my father.”
“You better get goin’, Doll.”
She gives me one last kiss, turns to board the Lear then stops. She runs back cryin’ and kisses me again—a deep, wet, lingering kiss. She pushes away and locks those eyes on mine. “We’ll always have Baltimore,” she says with tears streamin’ down her cheeks. She boards the Lear without lookin’ at me again and the hatch closes behind her. I stays and watches it take off. I know she ain’t comin’ back. 

The return drive to the office seems longer than usual, and I know what O’Riley’s gonna say when I tells her what really happened. She’ll say there ain’t no way to prove any of it. That it’s just hearsay in court. But I know I’ll tell her anyway, see? I have to. I walks into my office and Arlene’s starin’ at me.
“Well?” she says.
“Well, what?”
“Well what happened? And where’s your hat?”
“It’s a long story, Arlene. I’ll fill you in later. Where’d you put that bourbon I asked you to pick up?”
“Lower left-hand drawer. It’s a little early to start drinking, Greyson. What’s wrong?”
“Ya ever heard that song, Arlene? I heard it on the Motorola on the way back.”
“What song?”
“There’s a song that goes somethin’ like, ‘Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.’”
I pours a double into a cup o’ joe, throws my feet up on my desk and leans back. A few minutes later, there’s another knock at the door. Arlene answers it and it’s that same guy in the brown clothes. After Arlene signs for the envelope, I tells her to open it. She turns white.
“Wha?” I says.
She walks over, hands shakin’, and gives me the envelope. Inside there’s a check from H&W Groceries. It’s for twenty-five grand written in Beulah’s handwriting. But better than that—it smells like her.

Author’s note:
You'll please forgive me for stealing -borrowing- a line from Casablanca, but since it's movies like that that inspired this piece. I just couldn't help myself. 

Look for Greyson Sloane on Wednesday 12-3-14. I'll post an episode a week for four weeks leading up to a Christmas caper titled, The Case of the Mistletoe Mistress.

See ya then.

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