Disclaimer: J M Straczynski, Babylonian Productions ™ and Warner Productions ™ own the rights to all of the characters contained in this story.
Author's Note: This started life as an idle fantasy which I then shared with a friend and... The next thing you know it had evolved into an actual fic. With a plot and everything. So, great apologies to the great JMS as well as Raymond Chandler. And Dashiell Hammet. And Rex Stout. And just about anyone who ever wrote a piece of hard-boiled fiction... Anyhow, this is set late season 3 and is not meant entirely seriously...
The Deep Sleep
'How do you feel?' It was a smooth slivery voice that matched her hair. It had a tiny tinkle in it, like bells in a doll's house. I thought that was silly as soon as I thought of it.
'Great,' I said. 'Somebody built a filling station on my jaw.'
'What did you expect, Mr Marlowe - orchids?'
'Just a plain pine box,' I said. 'Don't bother with bronze or silver handles. And don't scatter my ashes over the blue Pacific. I like the worms better. Did you know that worms are of both sexes and that any worm can love another worm?'
'You're a little light-headed,' she said, with a grave stare.
Garibaldi's link chimed and he groaned. Just as he'd been getting to the good part, too. He closed the book, keeping one finger between the pages to mark his place.
'Chief!' Zack's voice, tense. 'I'm sorry but we've got a situation down here and-'
'Skip it, Zack. I'm not on duty for another hour – come back and bother me then.'
'Yeah, I would, and I'm sorry, but this is getting out of hand.' There were crashes somewhere in the background; Zack started to speak again, was cut off in a sharp yelp. 'Chief!'
He sighed. 'I'm still here.'
'Listen, these Narns are good but they only really listen to you and-'
'Okay, okay.' He tilted his head back for a second, closed his eyes. 'Where are you?'
'I'm on my way.'
Garibaldi swung his feet off the couch, stood up and dragged his uniform jacket on. Philip Marlowe never had these problems, he reflected. Marlowe answered to no-one but himself and his free time wasn't spent busting up fights between civilians and Narns who could lay a punch like an anvil coming down on your head.
He shook himself. The only draw-back to Marlowe was that after a couple of hours in his company, Garibaldi started talking like him. Then again, maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. He turned down the lights, let himself out and started towards the tubes that would take him to Red Sector.
John Sheridan entered MedLab, crossed immediately to where Franklin was bending over the figure on the gurney. He let out a low whistle. 'That's one hell of a bruise.'
Franklin glanced up. 'It was one hell of a blow.'
The doctor sighed, closed over his scanner. 'As far as I can make out he got called down to help in a situation at the Zocalo; one of the Narn security guards accidentally landed a blow on him and he went headfirst into a pillar.'
Sheridan winced in sympathy. 'Is he going to be okay?'
Franklin considered for a moment, looked from Garibaldi to Sheridan's concerned face and back again. 'He's taken a crack to the head and he hasn't regained consciousness yet; he should be okay. The man's got a skull like granite. I'm thinking of asking him to donate it to medical science when he's done with it.'
The captain smiled; he took a step forward, peered down at his friend's unconscious form. He frowned, tilted his head to get a better look. He had thought it was a trick of the light at first but Garibaldi almost looked like he was smiling. Sheridan straightened up, bent over again almost immediately. 'Did you hear that?'
Franklin looked at him vaguely. 'What?'
'He said something. It- It sounded like "coffee".'
I woke up and wished I hadn't. Sleeping in a chair isn't too good for you when you get to my age. I sat up, wondered about the orchestra playing the Anvil Chorus in my head and looked up at the lunatic who was grinning down at me.
'Go to hell.' I massaged the back of my neck and bid farewell to Verdi. 'We got any coffee?'
'Susan's making it now. You know, it wouldn't kill you to go home at night; that way I wouldn't have to keep dragging your sorry ass up and out of that chair every morning.'
He let the shades up and I squinted into the light. Apart from anything else it showed up the few thousand dust motes dancing about that were usually hidden. My alarm clock walked himself back over to his desk, put his feet up on it and started to read the paper. Sport's section. Catching up on the World Series. John J. Sheridan: war hero, widower, all round good guy. And my partner.
Me, I used to be a cop - one of New York's finest. I was partnered up with a guy named Jeff Sinclair. Jeff was my best friend, the kind of guy who picked me up, carried me through, dried me out when I needed it, covered for me. And then... Well, one day, Jeff wasn't there anymore.
Exit Jeff Sinclair stage left, enter John Sheridan stage right.
It was just after the war, spring of '46 and we'd fished some poor schlub with a chest full of lead out of the river. Not much more than a kid. Goofy expression and nothing in his pockets except for his I.D. and a photo of some cute little number waiting for him back in Wisconsin or someplace. She'd be waiting a long time. It was one of those cases that doesn't really get solved. But I wanted to solve it and in the middle of all that came Johnny-boy. Just out of the army, with the haircut to prove it, and so many medals on his chest it was a wonder his ribs didn't collapse under the pressure. The kid was a friend of his, had been in his unit, and he wanted answers - and he didn't trust anyone except himself to get them for him. I hated him on sight until I got the picture that he was actually an okay guy. Long story short, we worked on it together and it was damn near the last thing we ever did. I closed the case but when you take down some City Councilmen it doesn't do much for your career. That was my last case. And then John comes up with this brilliant idea (he has a lot of those) - we go into business together as private eyes.
Crazy has never come between me and anything. Some guys go for crazy and I guess I'm one of them.
So, two years later there we were. Somewhere along the way we had acquired a secretary and offices that were probably decorated during the first Roosevelt Administration - Teddy, not Franklin D. - and never touched since. Sometimes we even ran at a profit. And sometimes I wondered how and why John ended up doing this. Gumshoeing around getting his nice blue pin-stripe all roughed up. Compared to me he was practically aristocracy - son of a diplomat, career military. He could have taken up a nice cushy number in some office on Madison and spent all his time polishing his shiny Purple Heart. But he was crazy enough to want to work for a living. He was also crazy enough to want to work with me for that self-same living and who was I to argue?
'Goddamn politicians.' John shook out the paper and gave it the kind of look that starts fires. 'You know what's worse than politicians?'
We'd played this scene a few times but it was a nice morning, there was nothing else going on, so I decided to humour him. 'Journalists?'
He was getting going. It was his way of letting off steam, I guess and I can't say that I exactly disagreed with him. I leaned back, closed my eyes and waited for Susan to come in with the coffee.
'How's he doing?'
Sheridan looked up as Ivanova joined him in MedLab. The captain didn't look so much worried as amused.
'Whatever he's dreaming about, he seems to be having a great time.'
She blinked. 'Okay. I'm not even going to ask.'
Sheridan grinned. 'Did you know he talks in his sleep? So far he's come up with "coffee", "Verdi" and "gumshoe." '
Susan laughed slightly. 'Verdi and gumshoe? I always knew he was a man of hidden depths. Delenn is looking for you, by the way.'
He straightened. 'Right. Thanks. I'll, uh-' He was already heading for the door. 'I'll stop back in later.'
The smell of fresh coffee came in a good five minutes before Susan did. Susan Ivanova - ramrod straight, as always, as though she'd just come in off the parade ground. She had a figure like something Gil Elvgren dreamed up, mind like a Philadelphia lawyer and mouth like a steel trap. Lots of people have tried to get something out of Susan and none have managed it. She kept us in shape, ran the office like a demon and thought that she could do our jobs better than we could. She was probably right at that, but I'd have taken a bullet in the brain before telling her so. Susan put down the coffee cups, one on each desk, picked up the paper John had dumped on the floor and folded it up until it looked like it hadn't been opened at all.
'There's someone here to see you.'
I shook my head. 'It's too early.'
She pursed her lips. 'I think you'll change your mind. And this lady isn't leaving.'
Lady? This I had to see. Dames only got the 'lady' moniker off Susan when it was someone she approved of. I looked over at John and he raised his eyebrows.
'Quick, angel, in with her.'
Susan looked me over and pursed her lips again until her mouth looked like a maraschino cherry someone had dropped into a glass of buttermilk. I straightened up and eyeballed her. We kept John around to make the good impression - he was the one with the clean shirt and the shined shoes each day. Except for when he was under pressure and he parted company with his razor. Susan's heels clipped their way out and a minute later our visiting lady clipped in. And boy, was she in the wrong part of town.
She was a little slip of a thing, big grey eyes and wrapped in furs that probably cost five year's worth of mine and John's salaries put together. She stood in the doorway for a minute and just looked at us. And we looked right back. Nice figure, trim ankles, a real looker.
John was on his feet – he was the gentleman in the outfit. 'Hi. Hello. John Sheridan.'
She dipped her head and gave this crooked little smile. 'Mr Sheridan.' She turned the grey peepers on me. 'And you must be Mr Garibaldi.'
'I must be.'
She dipped her head again, looked back at John and sashayed across the office bringing with her a cloud of perfume of the kind that probably makes Frenchmen dive into the Seine to prove their undying love.
I'd like to say for the record that I do okay with women. I've got no complaints. I know what I like, I like girls who know what they like and usually go for the ones who like me. Easy. Having said that, most women take one look at Johnny-boy, lick their lips and move in for the kill. He usually side-steps them. So, it came as a surprise to see him almost falling over himself to pull out a chair for her.
After all that time it looked like I had finally found out what his type was and apparently his type was small, dark and cool.
She murmured her thanks, they looked at each other and I thought it was about time to break up the petting party.
'Okay, we've introduced ourselves - think you'd like to go with convention and tell us your name?'
She paused for a moment, smoothed her skirt over her knees. 'My name is Della Ramir, and I need your help.'
Okay, apparently John's type was small, dark, cool and very, very rich.
No wonder that pretty little face of hers looked so familiar. Not that I paid much attention to the society pages, but you'd have to have read the papers with both eyes shut not to have noticed one or other of the Ramir girls staring back at you. Old man Ramir had been a tycoon: mills, mines, rigs, factories. I would say he had been into all the things that make America great except that he hadn't been into munitions. A tycoon with a conscience, who'd have thought? He died some years back and left his eldest daughter a not-so-small fortune that she would have inherited when she came of age, which made Miss Ramir one of the wealthiest women in America. I looked at John and he was wearing his Sphinx face so I knew he was thinking the same thing that I was. Namely: what would a lady like her want with two jokers on the wrong side of town?
I leant back in my chair. 'What is it? National Slumming Day?'
Her eyebrows arched at me. 'I beg your pardon?'
I held up my hands. 'No need to beg, I give this stuff away for free.'
'I'm sorry about him,' John laid one of his smiles on her, 'he was dragged up. Why don't you tell us what it is you need help with, Miss Ramir?'
I thought for a moment she might bolt but the sight of John's pearly whites had the desired effect and she settled a bit.
'To be brief, gentlemen, I-' She took a deep breath and maybe she wasn't as cool as I had first thought; she was clutching her tiny purse until her knuckles were white. 'I am being blackmailed.'
John was still doing his Sphinx impression but there was a twitch in his jaw that meant he was surprised. Like I said, there were two Ramir girls: Wonderful and Not-So-Wonderful. Wonderful got attention for philanthropic good works and looking good at the Governor's ball; Not-So-Wonderful was the girl who got attention for the wild parties and doing a striptease at the Governor's ball. Wonderful was supposed to be the one sitting in front of us but maybe she was just more discreet. I admit I felt disappointed. When she'd walked in there had been something about her - integrity, maybe - and I'd wanted to believe in her.
'So, what is it? Caught out pawning the family silver? Dope?'
Her lips thinned to hard line. 'Photographs.' She spat the word like a bullet out of a bean-shooter.
Right, that racket. I could feel my lips curling into a sneer. 'What do they call them? "Artistic" photographs? I suppose you posed for them to help out some sensitive soul with his art project.'
She took another breath.
'The photographs are of my sister.'
I felt like a heel.
John cleared his throat. 'If the pictures are of your sister ...'
He nodded his head. 'Maya. If they're hers, why are you being blackmailed?'
'Because I'm the one with the money, Mr Sheridan. Maya will inherit a substantial amount when she comes of age; at the moment it's held in trust for her. Until then, she cannot touch it. Do I really have to go into all of that?'
That's the thing about rich people - when they've got so much money it's like it embarrasses them to talk about it. Me, I don't embarrass easy but if you gave me enough money, I'd give it a try. She kept twisting her fingers around; I saw it and I saw that John could see it and I knew he was going to go easy on her. Okay, so maybe she deserved easy.
'Okay,' he said. 'Look, I can understand you wanting to get this over with but maybe you should give us the long version.'
Miss Ramir looked from him to me and I arranged my features into something sympathetic.
She didn't say anything for a moment, just chewed on the inside of her lower lip. 'Anything I say to you- Isn't there something about client confidentiality? You can't repeat it to anyone else?'
'That only works if you are a client.'
John tilted his head. 'Have you got a quarter?'
'A quarter. Have you got one?'
She looked puzzled, forehead wrinkling. 'Well, I- Yes, I do; of course I do, but-'
He held out his hand. She stared at it, then opened that purse of hers, pulled out a quarter and gave it to him. He tossed it, caught it and put it in his breast pocket.
'Consider that a retainer. It doesn't mean we'll take the case, but it does mean we won't repeat anything you tell us now.'
She had a pretty good set of pearly whites of her own and she gave John a good look at them. 'Oh, I see. Thank-you.'
Della Ramir had this bronze contralto of a voice and it had plenty of feminine in it; I noticed John was putting some extra masculine into his so I guess they balanced each other out.
'I- I don't want you to get the wrong idea about Maya,' she said. 'She isn't a bad girl, she's just... Our mother left when Maya was only four years old. Our father spoilt her as a result – he spoilt both of us; but no-one... No-one ever gave Maya any boundaries, any discipline. I have tried, but- Well, I'm her still only her sister, not her mother.' She sighed. Normally I would have said Poor Little Rich Girl. Thing was, I actually felt sorry for her. 'It was different for me: I'm older than she is; I was already at school when ... it happened. And then our father died and...' She raised her shoulders and her furs slid down a little.
'Do you know who the blackmailer is?'
'Yes. His name is Morden, Richard Morden. He used to be our chauffeur but then he was fired.'
She tilted her head and looked at me almost pityingly. 'He was too friendly with my sister and our guardian objected.'
'Guardian?' I looked her over. 'Just how old are you?'
She almost smiled at me then. I say almost – the full shebang was apparently saved up for my partner. But there was a definite curve around those lips.
'Old enough.' She crossed her legs. 'Du- Mr Greybourne isn't my guardian anymore but he is Maya's.'
Of course. 'Duke' Greybourne. The late Mr Ramir's business partner and oldest friend. You didn't see him in the society pages so much as the financial pages – and I only reach those on the way to the sports pages if I've started from the front or the proper news – if you can call it that, John wouldn't – if I've started from the back.
John had folded his arms. 'So, what's he like, this Morden?'
She thought about it. 'Oily.'
He laughed. 'Anything more than that?'
She went sort of stiff again. 'He isn't a very nice person.' She paused and apparently decided that this subject needed some clarification. 'I never really knew him very well.'
'Just the back of a head that got you where you needed to go, huh?'
John glared at me; Miss Ramir gave me another one of her almost-smiles. 'Something like that, I suppose. Maya got to know him a lot better, obviously. I had been away for a while and it was during that time that they...'
'Became better acquainted?' John offered. Like I said: he's the gentleman and the one with the fancy turn of phrase.
'When was he fired?'
'Six months ago. Then three weeks ago he sent me a letter and ... and a photograph. It was horrible.' She shivered, pulled the family of foxes she had draped around her back up her shoulders. 'He said that he'd return the rest of the photographs and the negatives if I paid him ten thousand dollars. That's a lot of money. Even for me, that's a lot of money.'
'But you paid it?' I asked.
'Yes, I did. But he didn't return the photographs or the negatives; and then he got in touch again and said that he wanted more money.'
'How much this time?'
'What does your ex-guardian think about this?'
She shook her head. 'He doesn't know anything about it, I didn't tell him. I didn't tell Maya. She'd lose her head over it; I know she would. She's getting married soon and the last thing we need is for her fiancé to find out. I-'
She stopped, looked between the two of us and for a minute I thought she was going to cry. But this lady was made of something stronger than that; once she'd stopped her hands from shaking she eyeballed John again and he took up the questions.
'Does anyone else know?'
'Only Leonard. He was my father's secretary and he stayed on afterward to, oh, to help me out; he advises me on some business affairs, helps me with running things, all of that. He's here today, downstairs; he drove me here.'
Good old Leonard, I thought.
'Could he be involved in it?' John asked. 'Inside man?'
Now she was shocked. 'Leonard? Of course not! How could you ask such a thing?'
He shrugged. 'I don't know him.'
'Well I do,' she said firmly. 'Leonard is devoted to my family – he'd never do anything to harm any of us.'
John looked at her and apparently decided she was on the level. He glanced over at me and I tilted my head a somethingth of an inch.
'Okay, Miss Ramir, what is it that you want us to do?'
Her grey eyes shone. 'Does that mean that you'll help me? You'll take the case?'
'Sure. What do you want us to do?'
'Get the photographs back. Please. I'm not asking you to do anything wrong, I don't know how you go about these things, but I have to get those photographs back, especially before the wedding.'
'When is it?'
'In three weeks time. She's marrying Nero O'Neill.'
Nero O'Neill. Now, he was in munitions. Munitions and ships – he must have made a packet out of the last war and was probably betting on making another bundle out of the next one. There's always a next one, don't worry about that.
'O'Neill, right.' I scratched my chin. 'Marriage made in the boardroom, huh?'
She did her stiff thing again, lifting her chin and going all haughty. On her it looked good. But she didn't exactly deny it. 'Marriage might be good for Maya – give her some responsibility.'
'Like the responsibility of spending O'Neill's money instead of yours?'
The grey flashers got turned on John but her voice did some throaty, throbby thing that it definitely didn't do when she was talking to me. 'Mr Sheridan, please.'
He folded his arms. 'Do you have an address for Morden?'
The purse got opened again. 'Yes, I have it here.'
She pulled out an envelope and handed it to him; John looked at, looked inside and handed it to me. It had the letter he'd sent her and the photograph, which was a real doozy and I speak as someone who knows about these things. If the Ramir fortune ever collapsed, Maya Ramir certainly wouldn't starve.
The purse had stayed open. 'There's also your fee. I'm not really sure...'
She pulled out four C notes and laid them on the desk. For two working stiffs used to forty a day plus expenses it was a beautiful sight. If I'd had a camera I would have taken their picture and got it framed.
'Is that enough?'
She looked anxious; I could have kissed her.
Miss Ramir closed her purse. 'Well, uh...'
'Just one more thing...' John looked at her, head on one side. 'Why come to us? I mean, we're not the most well-known operatives in the business; I'm sure that a lady in your position must have plenty of friends who could have steered you towards someone more up-market.'
'Well, uh...' Her eyes dropped to the floor and then she looked up at him again. 'You were recommended.'
That's another thing I love about Johnny-boy – he always gets his grammar right.
She thought about this for a moment. 'Does it matter? You have your confidentiality about your clients – I have the same thing with my ... friends.'
His eyebrows raised and so did mine. I couldn't think of a single client we'd had who could have boasted even having walked down the same street as Della Ramir, never mind anything else. But the interview was at an end: she uncrossed her legs and stood up.
John was on his feet again immediately and this time I joined him. When a dame's paying you that much, the least you can do is show a little good manners.
'We'll be in touch.'
Another dip of her head. 'Thank-you, Mr Sheridan. Mr Garibaldi.'
I nodded back and John escorted her to the door; then he followed her out of it and I'm guessing he escorted her across our vestibule. Maybe he was afraid she'd get lost out there.
I sat back, admired the lettuce and waited for him to come back; he did, finally, and by that time I wondered if he'd escorted her all the way down to her car and Loyal Leonard. He was wearing the goofiest expression I'd ever seen in my life; it was like watching Jimmy Stewart trapped inside Clark Gable's body.
I jerked my head towards the closed door that the fragrant Miss Ramir had recently sailed through. 'She's beguiling, no?'
He raised his eyebrows at me. 'She's what now?'
'Beguiling,' I repeated; I was pretty sure it meant what I thought it did. 'It's a poetry word; I would have thought an educated stiff like you would know that.'
'I do know that; I'm just surprised that you know that.'
He grinned at me and I still congratulate myself on the fact that I managed not to throw something at his head.
The door opened again and Susan breezed in as though she owned the place. 'Well?'
I scratched my ear emphatically. 'Well what?'
'Are we going to help that poor woman?'
'Poor?' I put my feet on the desk, one ankle crossed over the other. I needed to get my shoes shined. 'Precious, that poor woman could buy and sell all three of us a thousand times over and still have enough loose change to buy up half the oil fields in Texas.'
She folded her arms. 'Skip it. What are we going to do?'
'We?' John looked over at her from his desk. 'We aren't doing anything; you, on the other hand, are finishing off that filing.'
She screwed her face up at him.
'You'll stick like that one day,' he told her.
Susan was still in the doorway and I figured that the best thing to do was treat her like she wasn't there and carry on talking. Even if we'd succeeded in sending her out she would have had her ear pressed up against the key-hole anyway. Unless she had the place wired for sound – I wouldn't have put it past her.
'So.' I put my hands behind my head and looked over at John. 'What do you think? We go round to Morden's shack?'
His thumb was rubbing back and forth along his forefinger – he only does that when he's thinking. 'No, I think we should find out a little more about this Mr Morden before we start making house calls.'
'You think Lon might know something?'
The thumb had stopped. 'He knows something about everybody else in New York, I don't see why Morden should be an exception.' He grinned at me. 'Not to mention that this way we get to have a breakfast that's edible for once.'
I took my feet off the desk, grabbed my hat. 'Let's go.'