|Soirées Noires: A San Spade Detective Story
Author: Eve Random PM
Nobody knows the wicked ways of Metropolis like Santana Lopez, PI. In San's world, the women tend to be drop dead gorgeous and the men tend to drop dead. Britt walked in that steamy summer night and San knew she was trouble in black nylons and red heels.Rated: Fiction T - English - Crime/Mystery - Santana L. & Brittany P. - Chapters: 11 - Words: 56,951 - Reviews: 96 - Favs: 71 - Follows: 91 - Updated: 07-31-12 - Published: 04-19-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8039402
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: In the tradition of the classic film noir and hard-boiled detectives of the 1940s epitomized by Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, I give you Santana Lopez, Private Eye...
The skies were dark, the heavens were sobbing, and the winds were howling, a day custom-built to match my mood. Nonetheless, I pulled my fedora down low, buckled the belt of my trenchcoat, and pulled up the collar as I pushed my way out onto the courthouse landing. Modeled after the Pantheon in Rome and the newly dedicated Jefferson Memorial in Washington, the white marble courthouse was a gleaming white ghost amongst the other grime-grey concrete and steel buildings in Metropolis. Part of me liked to think it would live up to its Greek temple-inspiration and be a beacon of justice in this corrupt town, but reality was it was just a brand new building. With enough time, everything in Metropolis was dirty.
Reaching a spot barely under cover of the portico, it took me three tries to light up a smoke before the Metropolis winds could mockingly blow out my match. I shivered as the first hot plumes of smoke inflated my lungs and I wondered just what else today had in store for me.
Clang clang clang
The jury was in. Even through the din of the milling crowd of reporters and lawyers and general lookey-loos, the court officer's bell cut through the noise and we all snapped our heads to look. I glanced down at my watch; fifteen minutes. I couldn't remember whether fast was good for the defendant or good for the executioner. I had the feeling this reminder was going to be one I'd never forget. Stubbing my cigarette out with the heel of my shoe, I let the mass of the crowd fight their way back into the courthouse while I lingered in the back, not up to being jostled, and frankly in no rush for what I was about to hear.
"Mister? Can I bum a smoke off ya?" I turned to see a young man in an ill-fitting suit jogging up the two or three dozen steps from the street level. Looking at me nervously, he patted his pockets as if to prove he had no smokes on him. Turning down my trenchcoat collar, I untucked my past-shoulder length black hair from inside the coat to let the kid see his mistake.
"Oh! Ma'am, I'm sorry…I thought…I'm sorry."
"No sweat, kid," I said. I retrieved the pack of cigarettes from my inside breast pocket and tossed them his way. "Have the whole pack. Today's the day I'm quitting."
Most of the throng had taken their places inside the courtroom by now. I took my time, shaking the rain off my trenchcoat before I folded it over my arm and walked down the corridor to courtroom 19D. Depositing my coat and hat on the brass coatrack outside, I chuckled at the grandiosity of the new courthouse. Brass, leather, mahogany, and marble everywhere the eye could see. Too bad the average Joe would never see the inside of this place. Instead, this beauty was wasted on murderers, thieves, and liars, and sometimes their paying clients too.
It was standing room only, which was fine with me. I didn't intend to hear whatever was about to be said sitting down. I ran my fingers along the creases in the slacks of my best navy blue suit. I knew better, but I tugged my trouser leg a little to see the damage the rain had done to my favorite pair of suede pumps.
"I forget you're a dame sometime until I get a look at those heels of yours," said Puckerman. He glanced down at my ruined heels and winked at me. I'd known Puckerman for, well, too long. He was a reporter on the courtroom beat and whenever I needed to know what was going down in this building, he was my first call. He popped a fresh bulb into the flash of his camera and smiled. "How do you think this one's gonna go, Lopez? Is your girl going away?"
I shot him a warning glance and looked back up to see the court officer commanding everyone to rise for the Honorable Judge Sylvester. "She's a client. It's not wise to mix business and pleasure."
"I bet it was a pleasure doing business with her. Besides, who ever accused you of bein' wise Lopez?"
Puckerman winked playfully, but the sneer on my face could have sobered up a drunk rounding the bases on a payday bender. Before I could skewer him with some pointed digs of my own, the jury was ushered in and a deadly hush fell on the courtroom. I squinted, trying to see if they avoided looking at the defendant- another courtroom palm reading trick of which I'd forgotten the exact meaning. The lead juror was a man in his mid-fifties whose forehead was winning the battle against his hair for control of his head. He had a habit of grimacing as if he'd been expecting an orange but had gotten a mouthful of lemon.
"Have you reached a verdict?" Judge Sylvester intoned, looking sternly over the top of her silver rimmed spectacles. She adjusted her raven-black velvet robe around her and shifted side to side ever so slightly to settle in like a bird in a nest, perhaps in tribute to her plumage.
"Y- yes, we have your honor," the jury foreman replied, his voice a good octave higher than normal. Coughing, he repeated in his normal register, "Yes. Yes, we have your honor."
The blank-faced bailiff extended a hand to the juror who passed him a bright yellow folded piece of paper, which he then handed to Judge Sylvester. The judge raised a pencil-thin eyebrow as she began unfolding the slip.
"Rumor has it Sylvester raises her eyebrow before looking at every verdict so no one can read her expression," Puckerman said in a stage whisper so loud the now stern-faced bailiff barked out a 'quiet in the courtroom'.
My thoughts and my eyes drifted to the defendant. She sat directly opposite the jury, dressed in a simple blue dress, no doubt the suggestion of her lawyer. She looked at Judge Sylvester, across the faces of the jury and then the crowd in the courtroom, searching for a pair of eyes belonging to a sucker. When her baby blues found mine, she stopped.
Judge Sylvester's face was set to its customary frown as the slip of paper was passed back to the head juror, who wiped his shaking hands on his plaid suit and began to read.
"We, the jury, in the case of the People of the State of New York versus Brittany Anderson AKA Britt Noir, find the defendant…"
July 1947 [Nuit Sur Les Champs-Elysees (take 1) | Miles Davis]
It was 11 o'clock on a miserable Thursday night, Metropolis was a concrete oven set to bake, and I was a Christmas ham that was just about done. Normally, the prospect of climbing six flights of stairs to the office loaded up like a pack mule would have been reason to take the elevator. But if the streets of Metropolis were an oven, the ventless elevator was a broiler, and this ham had already learned her lesson. Huffing up the stairs like the 7:15 from Poughkeepsie, I prayed the air inside the office would be a degree or two cooler than it was in the staircase. I could see the light on in Artie's office through the yellowing bubble glass, so I didn't bother to fish for my key and just leaned into the door to enter.
The lights were off in the main office where the secretary's desk was. She'd escaped for the night, smart gal. My office and Artie's sat opposite each other down a hallway so short it was an insult to real grown-up hallways. The light in my office was off, but the light from the window above Artie's office provided dim illumination; everything in the room casting elongated shadows. I tried my best to creep in, removing my fedora and tossing it on a chair, my liberated hair tumbling down onto my shoulders. I often wore men's (or rather boy's) suits and hats as disguises on stakeouts. I'd found a woman sitting alone in a car for hours drew too much attention. Police officers, young children, and generally concerned citizens would knock on the window during a "covert" surveillance operation and ask if I needed medical help or some other assistance. With the addition of a suit, a hat to hide my hair, and a newspaper to duck behind, I could be left alone for what sometimes felt like days. I'd gotten quite use to my suits, they were nearly my daily attire now. Still, on a sweltering night like this, a jacket and tie were not my favorite parts of the job.
My prayers for cooler climes had gone unanswered and the office felt just as hot and muggy as a big kiss from Fido. The overhead fan was spinning, but the only thing it was moving was the shadows across my desk. I shrugged off my jacket, placing it on the back of my chair, and contemplated turning the fan up a notch or cracking the window open, but decided against risking the noise. If Artie's lights were on this late, he'd either fallen asleep reading one of my more exciting reports, or he was schmoozing a client. If he was asleep, I'd rather let him get the shuteye. If the latter were the case, the last thing I had in mind for this inglorious evening was putting on a happy face for a client. If I could get any part of my surveillance notes typed up, I could sneak out of here and hit a bar before calling it a thankless night and retiring to my basement apartment. Artie ragged me constantly that my windowless apartment was essentially a tomb. That probably wasn't far from the truth, but on nights like these, a cool tomb and a drink was exactly what I wanted.
My chair squeaked as I sat down and I froze, eyes shooting to Artie's door. After a second without a response, I leaned back, content he still hadn't heard me. Pulling a rubber band from off the little ball I'd compiled, I fixed my hair up off my neck in a messy bun, restoring a bit of cool to my composure. I flipped open my notebook, inserted two pieces of paper and a carbon in the typewriter, and sighed. My bottom desk drawer called out to me and I pulled it open with the tip of my foot, retrieving a half full bottle of whiskey. I had two shot glasses in the drawer, but tonight I wasn't one for ceremony and I took a swig directly from the bottle. The mouthful of hooch burned my tongue familiarly and I swallowed; not smooth, not tasty, but certainly potent. Feeling momentarily refreshed, I cracked my knuckles, and started as quietly as I could, pecking out the words from my notes on the state of the art Underwood typewriter.
Artie must have been waiting for me because as I was about to hit return on the first line, I saw his long shadow cast across my page. I turned to see him standing in the doorway of his office, cane in hand. Artie's starchy shirt, suspendered pinstripes, brown leather oxfords, and spectacles made him look more like an accountant than a private investigator, but looks were deceiving and I knew Artie was the one man with whom I could, and had, entrust my life.
"Santana, got a minute? Like to introduce you to a client," Artie gestured with his head, adjusting the wire rims that had slipped down his nose. No doubt he'd turned the fan down so the client wouldn't have to shout confidential information, but he was now paying the price. I could see the tiny beads of sweat on his upper lip from across the room. The neck noose and jacket may have been making a professional impression on the client, but they weren't helping Artie's cool any. Reading my mind regarding an escape plan, he ambled over to my desk and lowering his voice, "An important client."
I leaned back in my chair glancing at the slightly ajar door of Artie's office. "What's the story? Another payroll gone missing? Political hack looking for mud to sling? Spoiled blue bloods can't find Great Aunt Gertrude's last will and testimony?" Times were tough in Metropolis, and although I knew I should have been happy to have three squares and a roof over my head, the kind of nickel and dime work we'd been doing lately had me contemplating the green grass outside Metropolis' baked concrete jungle. If it weren't for Artie, I'd have given this town the kiss-off long ago.
Catching a glimpse of candy apple red shoes in Artie's office, I guessed again, "A missus done wrong by her mister?" I sighed rolling my eyes.
Artie leaned into me and replied, "Yeah, but it's no average mister does THIS missus wrong. Put that away and come in." Artie pointed with the handle of his cane at the bottle of whiskey on my desk. I moved to screw the cap back on, but he tapped my shoulder. "Second thought, give me a taste first." I handed the bottle to Artie, who wickedly wiped the lip of the bottle with his shirtsleeve and tossed back a drink.
I stood, smoothing out the wrinkles in my suit pants and shaking my head. "If you were gonna catch something from me, you'd have done it long ago." I pulled the rubber band from my hair, and with a mirror and brush from my top drawer, tamed my hair into a presentable form.
Following Artie back into his office, my eyes immediately found the candy apple red pumps and their owner standing pensively in front of the window. The pumps were attached to a pair of legs in hard-to-find, expensive-to-own, black silk seamed stockings. She wore a curve-hugging red dress that I could tell from here was not off the rack of any store. The dress skimmed the top of her calves and by the looks of the legs and the way she gave shape to the expensive dress, I'd guess she was a dancer who'd found her Mr. Moneybags. Her honey-blonde hair was loosely waved in the latest style of the movie starlets, perfectly in place under a red pill box hat made to match her dress.
Artie whispered so as not to startle her out of her reverie. "Mrs. Noir?" She seemed not to hear and remained motionless, perhaps lost in thought. Artie opened his mouth to speak again, but stopped when she turned her head to the side and placed a long thin black cigarette holder to her scarlet lips. Recognizing the cue, Artie stepped forward, pulling his chrome lighter from his pocket, and lit her cigarette. She turned slowly to face us, a curl of smoke snaking its way from her slightly parted lips.
With an almost imperceptible motion, she nodded appreciation for the light to Artie and turned her eyes to me. They were the color of a Metropolis sky on one of those rare days when you looked up from the grime of the city around you and admired the heavens above. The angel on my shoulder whispered that legs and lips like that were nothing but trouble. Feeling the electricity in those eyes, I knew trouble was just the beginning.
I tried my best to hide the fact that I recognized her immediately - Britt Noir. She was the wife of Blaine Noir, owner of the Soirées Noires nightclub, a regular stop for the see-and-be-seen set of Metropolis. Britt and Blaine had gone from a his-and-hers magic act, to owners of their own nightclub after a financial windfall of some sort washed them in green. Now Mrs. Noir commanded her own stage every night singing and dancing, with an occasional appearance from Blaine. On the surface, they had it made, but the fact that she was here in our office on a night like this said different.
"Mrs. Noir," Artie started again, "this is my associate, Santana Lopez." I extended a hand to her and she cocked her head to the side, no doubt taking stock of my suit.
"Please, call me Britt, or if you must, Mrs. Anderson. Noir is just a stage name." Despite the familiarity her words suggested, Britt Anderson's porcelain face didn't soften a bit as she spoke the words. Her eyes remained on me as she addressed Artie. "And Mr. Abrams? The glass of water?"
"Pardon?" Artie said, momentarily confused. "The water! Right! Apologies. The water for your headache powder. I'll be right back." Artie excused himself to retrieve a glass from the small bar in the far corner of his office.
With her eyes never leaving mine for a second, she asked, "Is that even comfortable on a night like this?" She looked me up and down, indicating my suit and exhaling another curl of smoke. For the second time tonight, I felt like a Christmas ham and the fox eyeing me was making the already sweltering room warmer by the second.
"Actually, no, but I'd bet only an icebox would feel good on a night like this," I replied.
She smiled, conceding the point, and took a seat in front of Artie's desk. Artie returned and circled around his desk to place the glass of water in front of her. Again, an almost invisible nod of gratitude to Artie. I pushed an ashtray out of the way so I could stand, leaning against the corner of Artie's desk. Britt flicked the tip of her cigarette holder and a small cylinder of ash landed squarely in the tray. Retrieving a small blue and white packet of headache powder, she emptied the contents in the glass of water, swirled it twice and downed the mix in one swallow. Artie and I exchanged a glance.
"I'll fill Santana in on the case a little later. But I wanted you to meet her before she shows up to the club. She'll be dressed appropriately, of course." I could hear the smile in Artie's voice, but since there was a client present I let the remark slide.
"I'd appreciate keeping this whole affair as quiet as possible," Mrs. Anderson said, looking back and forth between Artie and me.
"Private investigations, Mrs. Noir. I mean, Anderson, Mrs. Anderson. Private is what the door says and that's what we do– private investigations. You have nothing to worry about. You're in the best hands in the biz." Artie stood and walked around to stand next to me in front of his desk. "You just leave it to us and we'll take care of everything." I nodded in unison with Artie; this kind of dog and pony show was exactly what I'd wanted to avoid tonight but here I was standing on my hind legs, tongue wagging.
"I certainly hope so," Mrs. Anderson said, stubbing her cigarette out in the ashtray and standing to leave. "Mr. Abrams, would you mind calling me a cab?"
"Sure thing, the black and whites are just around the corner. They should be here in two shakes," Artie said as he picked up the receiver of the phone and spun the number to the taxi company out on the rotary dial. Having secured a taxi for Britt, he offered to walk her down to the street level. "If it'd make you feel better, I could ride with you and make sure you get in all right."
"Thank you, Mr. Abrams, but that won't be necessary. If you could just see me to my taxi?" Mrs. Anderson replied. "Mrs. Lopez, Friday then?" she asked, her eyes asking what her words didn't say so plainly.
"Tomorrow, that's right," I replied, intentionally not correcting her. "Good evening, Mrs. Anderson."
"Call me Britt. Good evening," she said, and her lips twitched up in what I could find myself mistaking as a smile.
The click of heels grew faint as Mrs. Anderson and Artie walked down the hall to the elevator. I lit a smoke and leaned against the windowsill. The streets were empty this time of night. The nearest bars were blocks away, a fact I often lamented. The only sound was the bellowing of the harbor foghorn a few blocks away. As I took another drag on my cigarette, the flash of a match being struck in the alley across the street caught my attention. The flame lit up the stranger's pale face like a bonfire; the orange tip flaring as Britt's taxi pulled to a stop in front of our building. I looked down to see Artie close the door and tap on the roof of the taxi. The cigarette flared orange again and was tossed to the ground.
Artie returned after kicking the fans in the outer room and his office into high gear. Pulling his tie completely off, he sat down in the chair Britt had just occupied.
"What's the lowdown?" I said, perching on the edge of the desk.
Artie pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyeglasses as he spoke. "She claims her old man has been getting death threats in the form of scribbled notes down at the club. She paid them no attention until they got one at their apartment. Mr. Anderson doesn't seem to think there's a problem, but Mrs. Anderson would like us to get to the bottom of this, sooner rather than later."
"So I take her at the club and you watch the husband?"
"Yeah, I figured you'd stand out less than me in her changing room- the cane, you know." We both chuckled. "Let's dish the rest over breakfast. I'm ready to get out of here." Artie stood, walking behind his desk, and starting to pack up his briefcase.
Standing over my typewriter, I glanced at the one line of notes I'd managed to type. I hit the '.' and slapped the return lever. Content I'd accomplished something, I sorted the papers in my briefcase.
"You don't have any objections to shadowing Mrs. Anderson, do you?" Artie said, waiting for me next to the door. "I figured she was… your type..."
I looked up from my briefcase, placing the last of the papers neatly inside. "She's married, Artie." Artie held the door open for me and I stepped outside, pausing as he locked the door behind us. "And she's asked us to protect her and her husband from harm."
Turning from the door, Artie smiled slyly. "Yeah, it's complicated. I thought that's the only way you liked your relationships - complicated."
I made the shape of a gun with my thumb and index finger and fired into Artie's chest. We both laughed. "If that's what you say about me to my face, I'd love to hear what you say behind my back."
"Walk ahead of me and I'll think of something," Artie replied.
A/N: This story has been soooo much fun to write. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you NEMO for the brilliant idea and encouragement. Thanks also to Blueashke for being SooperBeta. As always, Nayshen is forced to read it first, thank you lovelies- especially my Vampie (Mariel) and Mon Ange (Maga). Snixx? What up?
And Foss- not possible without you.