By Gen X
I knew this dame would be trouble from the moment he, er, she walked into my office. She held an embroidered handkerchief in her hands and her delicate fingers wrung at it, mangling the monogram. She sniffled and dabbed at her eyes. "Oshitari-san?" she asked. Her voice was all a twitter.
This was a woman upset, and I did the only thing I could do: I invited her in. I offered her a seat, a place to put her pretty little feet up. It was obvious that she had a problem, you see. She needed help. Fortunately, she had come to me.
I took her jacket and hung it next to the door. I pulled the shade for some privacy. There was another agency across the hall, and the lead P.I. was a real shifty fellow. He'd love to steal my client, especially one as pretty as this bird. If you ask me, he's just bitter because my name comes first in the phone book.
I poured myself a drink. She looked as if she could use one too. "Scotch?" I asked, holding the bottle towards her. She blinked and it made her look like a doe-eyed deer, trapped in headlights of a Chevy. You know, one of those new models with the black trim. She sniffed and shook her head, so I poured myself a double. I leaned against the edge of the desk, one foot off the ground, and gestured for her to introduce herself.
"So... what should I call you?"
"Fuji Syuuske," she supplied.
"Fujiko-chan it is." I nodded. "What can do I do for you?"
"They told me you were the one to see."
She seemed timid. From her clothes, she was loaded. It was gold on her wrist, but I didn't see a ring. The dress she was wearing was designer, and her shoes-- well, I don't know much about shoes. One thing I did know was, she was a looker.
I reached back, pulled open my desk drawer and fished out my cigarettes. "Do you mind?" I asked, match book already in my hand.
She stared at me hungrily, or rather, at the cigarette. I extended the gold case to her, and she pulled one out. Her nails were perfect. I knew it. She hadn't seen a day's work in her entire life. Flipping through her purse, she pulled out a cigarette holder and continued her story. "I need your services."
I quirked an eyebrow. That much had been obvious. Her voice was different, changed with the nicotine. The shakes were gone, and I gave her a more critical look. She was gorgeous. Legs that went up to her breasts, a tiny waist, and more curves than the Jersey turnpike. The hair was a bit rough, but they said the short look was in. Besides, her eyes were blue and they sparkled like the ice at Rockefeller center on Christmas day.
Now this was the type of woman my mother had always warned me about.
"They say you're good at finding things," she started again. She opened her purse with a click, pulled out a slip of paper and closed it again with a snap.
I took the extended photograph and looked it over. Professional developed. A party somewhere. The dress was low, dark. Even in black and white, she was still a knockout. But the most striking thing was the rock.
"That's a family heirloom. My mother's. My grandmother's. That's why I want to hire you."
I looked up, then back at the picture. "Diamond?"
"Yes. In the shape of a teddy bear. Someone had the nerve to steal it." She flipped her hair, showing me the nape of her neck, now lonely without its adornment. "My favorite piece of jewelry too."
I flipped the photograph back in her lap. This was a lackey job. "Sure you didn't lose it in your jewelry box, toots?"
Her face flashed with indignation, cheeks coloring and for a second I thought I was going to get slapped. It wouldn't be a new experience, you understand. That type of thing came with the territory, but with those rings she was sporting, I didn't want to risk it. "Let's say your maid got sick of minimum wage and decided to skip country."
"I don't have a maid." Oh, she hated me now.
"Of course not." She pulled angrily at her cigarette, before blowing out the smoke. I waved a hand and tried not to cough. "I have a butler," she flounced. "His name is Takashi."
"Of course." I smirked. I knew I had her pegged. She was from the upper end of town. If she wasn't playing house, she was playing in someone else's. And with the way she was talking, it was probably daddy's money. "Say, he's tired of being a hired hand? You're asleep one night, he sees his chance?"
"He's devoted to me. Head to toe. Besides," she frumed, "I already know who did it."
I stood, stalking around her as if she were a suspect. Her head kept moving to follow my steps. "Why come to me then? Surely a girl like you would have the police at your house in five minutes."
"The police can't help me."
"Maybe I can't either."
"I can pay you."
I winced, and stopped myself from looking at my office. The gas company had shut off a week ago. Had to leave the door open and leech off the heat in the hallway. Pretty soon, I'd be using the bills to start a fire. Beggars couldn't be choosers, but there was something shady about this. About her.
"All right." I sat back down, and looked her straight on. "A thousand."
"Take it or leave it." She was worth more. We both knew it. Hell, she'd be willing to pay more in hush money. That was a thought. The electric company hated me too.
"Insane," she countered. "You don't even know if you can do the job."
I smirked, and tilted my head to her. We both knew my reputation. "Eight hundred," I countered.
In a moment, she was on her feet. Her purse fell to the floor with a thunk. "Excuse me?"
She stalked towards me until we were inches apart. I could smell her perfume. Chanel No. 5. mixed with just a hint of cigarette smoke. I took a deep breath. It was heaven. "Take it or leave it."
For an moment, I thought she was going to leave. Gather her purse like a red-light district girl and storm out of the office, and walk right outta my life. A gal like her, she'd make sure to slam the door. The window repair would cost a fortune, not to mention the detailing. I was damn proud of that detailing.
Instead, she smiled. Not a cute, 'Buy me a fur coat smile,' no, this was something more. It was sultry and seductive. Her blue eyes seemed to entrance and twinkle. I was powerless, held in her gaze, unable to look away and not wanting to either.
"Fine, but I don't pay expenses."
From the look on her face, she meant it. I extended my hand. It was better this way. That is, unless I needed medical. Thankfully, that's was what my revolver was for. Best health insurance in the nation.
"Then, Fujiko-chan, we have a deal."
She shook my hand. Her skin was as smooth as a newborn's. I settled myself in my chair, and kicked my feet up on the desk.
"Now, tell me. Where did you last see your necklace..."
It was a hell of a day.
The rain was splashing on my clothes, clinging to my suit, just like I clung to the newspaper above my head. My last umbrella had died on me between 46th and 42nd street. I needed this job, I'm just happy Fujiko didn't call my bluff.
I turned down an alley. Even with the rain, it seemed covered in grime. A popular hangout for the lower class. It was a nest of low rent apartments and broken windows. The alley was filled with bums and scum the police had chased out of the respectable parts of the city.
"What the hell was she doing here?" I wondered aloud.
The neon signs illuminated the alleyway, and I found myself outside the Blue Sheep Bar. The door blended with the building, a mass of chaos covered in waybills and flyers. It took a good ten seconds to find the doorknob. Now what was a hoity-toity girl doing down here at a place like this?
Thankfully, the interior was better than the outside. Light blue lighting hung from the ceiling. The usual green drop lights were done in a deep shade of blue. The carpet was brown. Someone had gone colorblind there. There was no cover or entrance fee, just a bouncer at the door, built like a tank, but he didn't give me a second look.
I worked my way towards the bar, keeping an eye on the patrons. There were couches lining the far wall, and dart boards and billiard tables in the far corner. She said she was here last week. That she'd stopped off to meet a friend. It was just going to be drinks and small talk. They had a theatre engagement. Kikumaru never missed the theatre.
But something had gone wrong.
You see, they never made it to that theatre. Their balcony seats went unused, and the final curtain closed without them. Just because they had stopped here first. This was where it began. It was rife with leads, and potential witnesses.
I surveyed the crowd. It wasn't a place that saw many visitors. It wasn't a Manhattan restaurant that required reservations and a waiting list, and a maitre de ready to serve you twenty kinds of chilled wine. This was the type of bar you stumbled upon four minutes from closing time. It wasn't a revolving door. People didn't just wander in, take a gander, and make their way out again.
This was a place that had regulars.
I later learned it had been a speakeasy, held over and renovated. It had become risque, and that made it edgy, and that made it popular. It had been renovated by the enthusiastic barkeep. Word on the street was he has sunk all his money into it. It was his baby.
He always worked the busy nights. They said he liked the atmosphere, and he knew his regular patrons. It was a clique, and you could be considered special if he knew your name. Of course, as far as I was concerned, ten-dollar tips for a three dollar whiskey couldn't hurt.
I spotted him easily. Bustling behind the bar, his blonde hair was hidden by a newsboy cap that was thrown jauntily atop his head. Even in the sea of cigarette smoke, he was easy to spot. His frame was lean, and he was younger than I had expected. I looked him up and down.
So this was him, the outgoing bartender, Akutagawa Jiroh.
He knew Fujiko-chan's name.
With any luck, he'd remember who else was here that night.
I'd start with him. And a double.
He had energy, I had to give him that. He bounced around the bar, twirling bottles but never dropping them. Heavy glass seemed to dance bout his hands, balancing on his wrist, before pouring drinks. Neat or with ice; everything was a production. His smile was so bright it rivaled toothbrush advertisements (those were annoying things if you asked me.) The most memorable part was his voice.
Laughter would ripple through the bar, starting with him. Like Santa Claus, there was a twinkle in his eye. I had no doubt this kid could have been an actor. He seemed to enjoy being in the limelight.
I stayed until closing, nursing a second drink. My head lolled forward, merely an act-but a familiar sensation all the same. I watched people trickle out of the club, arms flung around shoulders, laughing all the way.. I had marked a few interesting ones, and maybe I'd be back to talk to them. For now, I only had one goal.
As the night had wore on, he seemed to have slowed down, now he looked like he'd lost all his steam. His head would droop, and he'd have to force himself to smile and wave. I hadn't seen him take any nips. It must have been the job. Who knew helping boozers would be a chore?
I raised my glass, signaling a refill. I laid a ten on the counter. On second thought, a business expense would have been a good thing. Perhaps after I got the necklace back I could negotiate a bonus.
"Never seen you here before." He gave me a tired smile and snagged a bottle from the shelf and refilled my glass. It didn't so much as flip. He yawned widely, covering his mouth, then stretching, bottle still in his hand.
I looked down at my watch. "A little early for sleep, isn't it?"
He finished his yawn, and blinked at me. Somehow, the only thing I could think about were Venus fly traps. You know, the ones that opened so wide, you never think they would ever shut. He gave a little shrug. "Not if I'm tired."
"You're closing soon," I pointed out.
Another shrug, another yawn. Without the crowd, he seemed a completely different person, and unfortunately for me, this one wasn't as talkative.
I tapped on the bill, pushing it towards his side of the bar. "How much for ten minutes of your time?"
I watched him blink at the money. He cocked his head as if he were studying it. Maybe he thought it was a phony note, or a Russian bill, but the crisp green was unmistakable. Uncle Sam hadn't failed me before. He lifted his head, and there was light in his eyes.
"Are you trying to bribe me? Are you a cop? That would be so cool!"
I slung back the rest of my scotch. The night was already long, and this kid wasn't helping. I gestured for him to lower his voice. There were still a few people in the club, and this wasn't a place the law was welcome.
"Yeah, kid, whatever you like. Now wouldn't it be so cool to help me out?"
I barely had time to blink before he bounded over the counter, and the next thing I knew, he was sitting on the barstool next to me. He reached over, grabbed a bottle of vodka, and a short glass, and downed three shots before I could blink.
I had no objections. Sobriety inhibits gossip. 'Sides, it'd be interesting to see if the kid could hold his liquor.
"I hear you run this place." I started off light. The less information I gave out, the better. "It's a nice joint."
He beamed. "Own it too. Every stitch. You don't know how fun it is watching and meeting people. Everyone is so nice and so--"
"Cool. I get it."
"Wow. You sound so stubborn. Are you going to interrogate me? You know my cousin once got roughed up by the police. He was stealing chickens, and they caught him with egg on his face, and they threw him into a dark room and turned on a spotlight and would you know that sucker cooked? Over easy! I mean, who knew those lights could be that bright."
I stared. I had no clue what to say, instead I lit a cigarette and grabbed for the bottle of scotch.
It seemed the only prudent thing to do.
Tip toeing around the issue wasn't going to get me anywhere. Every person required a different bit of finesse, so I decided to cut to the proverbial chase. "Do you know Fuji Syuuske?"
He bounced. Literally. I was beginning to think that his tailor had sewn Mexican jumping beans into the seat of his pants. And I thought mine was bad leaving the chalk marks on. "Fujiko-chan! Of course! She used to be in pictures. Look! She even autographed one for me!"
He leaned back pointing to a spot above the bar, and there she was decked out like a Hollywood Starlet. A goddess of the silver screen, and there was the teddy bear around her neck.
An actress... well, that explained a lot.
Jiroh continued to talk. The boy knew her filmography like the back of his hand. None of the names rang a bell for me. I didn't throw in for pictures that much. There were people who did that for an escape. They'd pack themselves into theatres, but it wasn't my scene.
There were two other photographs on the wall. One was a dusky brunette with long bangs that framed her face, and the other was an all too familiar spitfire gal. The photo was in black and white, but that redheaded bob was unforgettable, even if you were aiming to. Black marker flowed across each of them; it was a squiggle pretending to be a name. Clearly, these were regular patrons as well.
"-- best role was in "Seven Minutes in Heaven." She played a jilted housewife in that one. It had the best plot twists. You wouldn't believe! I mean! The dog! In the kitchen with the heiress! Blew my mind--"
Seemed to me, that someone already did that.
"Ne, so does this mean you know Fujiko-chan?"
"Purely professional," I responded. I didn't like to give too much away. Despite what Fujiko-chan had said, everyone was a suspect. This kid, however, seemed clueless. Fifty-cents short of cab fare, and a few extra bats in the belfry. Pleasant enough though. I could see why he had so many customers. "We have a working relationship."
His face fell as if someone had run over his puppy, and shook his head. "Mou... If she needed money, she's too good to be a call girl..."
I sputtered and coughed into my scotch, and waited a moment to get my bearings. If that's what the kid wanted to think, it worked for me. "So she comes in often, ne?"
"Every Saturday! All the best people come in on Saturdays. Okay, maybe not everyone. We haven't gotten Ryou-kun in for ages, but he switched to Friday nights. The best thing! Last week Yukimura-kun dropped by. He looked so pale, but I guess Canada'll do that to you, eh? Drinks were on the house. Always for a nice occasion like that."
"Was that last Saturday?" Now we were getting somewhere. Fujiko-chan hadn't mentioned a celebrity. A looker she might be, but stingy on the details. That's where it really counted. Women like that were teases.
Hell, they all were.
"Er, no... last Saturday was the usual crowd." His eyes tilted upwards, and the list of names began. Now we were getting to the good stuff. "Fujiko-chan, Ei-chan, Mukahi-chan, Taki-kun, of course..."
"Of course. Last week sounded like fun, why don't you tell me about?."
"Fun? You betcha." He did three more shots, and started to speak. His gaze drifted to a spot on the wall, and that's how I knew it was my cue to listen. "Taki-kun was in the best mood last week..."