The minute he walked in my door, I knew he was trouble. I had seen him through the frosted glass of my door, the lines of his body broken up by the Venetian blinds on my windows, but his silhouette didn't do him justice. He lounged against my desk, sipping the scotch I had poured him and watching me from under his eyelashes. He was short and slim, with dark brown hair that flopped over his forehead and big blue eyes like a broad. He leaned over my desk, swaying his hips seductively under his suede trench coat.
"I don't come to this part of town often, Mr. Lensherr, but a friend told me that you're the best gumshoe in the city." His voice was cultured and smooth, his British accent giving away his upper crust origins. He'd probably never been south of Fifth Avenue, if the cut of his suit was anything to go by. I fingered the sharp edges of the business card he'd handed me as he came in.
"I prefer the term 'freelance detective', Mr. Xavier." I said coolly, re-filling my drink from the half-empty bottle of Jack on my desk. "But your friend is right. If you've got a problem, I can solve it. So what is it?" The glass was cool against my lips as I gulped down my hooch, the ice cubes rattling against the sides. "Somebody trying to chisel you out of the family fortune? Get caught with your pants down and now the butler's trying to bleed you?"
"Nothing so unsavory, detective. I've got a reputation to uphold; I'm very careful about my actions." He smiled thinly, his cherry red lips looking sweeter than my grandmother's schnitzel. "Unfortunately, my sister isn't quite so concerned with our family's good name."
"I see." I had heard the Xavier name before- who hadn't, in this town- and I finally connected the name to the rumors. "Raven, isn't that the kitten?"
Xavier nodded grimly. "You've heard of her exploits, then. My sister and I have always been very close, since we were children, but lately she's been getting funny. She goes out with men I don't know, she's started drinking hard liquor, and she's cut her hair in a bob- you know, like all the girls are doing these days." He sat down in the leather chair I put out for clients, swirling the scotch around in his glass contemplatively. "I'm not a closed-minded man, Mr. Lensherr, I know that I can't hold onto my baby sister forever. But that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to worry about her."
I was getting bored. "I don't need your life story, Mr. Xavier. What do you want from me?"
He polished off his drink, loosening his tie as he held it out to be refilled. I was more than happy to oblige, the sight of his milky throat one Hell of an incentive to get him loose. "I'll cut to the chase. Raven's fallen in with a man I don't trust, the sort of guy that makes your skin crawl. You know the type."
I did. Half of them were my informants and the other half caused me internal bleeding on a daily basis.
"She thinks he's the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas. She's only twenty-two; she can't tell a saint from a sinner, but I can. I've seen this bum, spent time in a room with him, and I don't trust him an inch. I sure as syrup don't trust him with my sister. And now he's come to my step-father and asked to marry her."
"My condolences, but I don't see where I come in."
"I'm good at reading people, but all I've got to go on that he's a skid rogue is my gut feeling. If I'm going to sink this punk, I need some good wire on him." He finished his drink in one gulp, his eyes meeting mine over the rim, narrowed and steely. "And I want him to go down deeper than the Titanic."
Xavier was pretty damn serious. He may have looked like a daisy, but he projected power like a man twice his size. He reminded me of a tommy-gun, hiding lead underneath a shiny smooth exterior. "You seem pretty set on getting rid of this guy. Are you sure you aren't just being over-protective of your sis?"
"Oh, I'm sure." He laughed ruefully. "If you'd seen this guy, you'd understand. As it is, you'll get it the moment you start tailing him. He's a heel."
"You seem pretty sure I'm gonna take your case. What makes you think I want your business?" I was bluffing. I hadn't had a case in weeks, and he'd just drank the last of my scotch. But sometimes you gotta play hard to get.
"Because I'm willing to pay as much as it takes, Mr. Lensherr. No sum is too high. I'm sure you know that my fortune is pretty much endless, and I'll do anything to see my sister safe and away from danger. She deserves better than Sebastian Shaw."
My blood ran cold in my veins, cold as the ice melting in the bottom of my glass. "What did you say his name was?"
Xavier watched me as he fixed his tie, starting to do up the buttons of his coat. "Sebastian Shaw."
Anger flared up in my gut, mixing with a burst of excitement. This could be my chance. I dropped the empty bottle of Glenfiddich in my drawer and replaced it on my desk with Magda. She gleamed in the low light of the office, black and silver beside the scattered papers and pens. Xavier eyed her nervously.
"I take it that means you're interested?"
"I'm more than interested." I slipped Magda into my shoulder holster and shrugged on my coat, the heavy weight of the Beretta comforting against my skin. I pulled a cigarette from the packet on my desk, sheltering the flame of my lighter in my cupped hands and taking a drag as I grabbed my fedora from the rack by the door.