... with apologies to Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.
"Ohhhh yessss... right there Sam! Oh yeah, baby! Keep doing it just like that!"
In the fiercely competitive world of private investigations, no matter what the situation, there are two kinds of guys - the quick and the dead. Quick to seize the initiative, quick to recognize danger, quick to see all the angles - or dead to rights in a pool of blood on some rainy, big city sidewalk.
Since I ain't dead, you can figure out for yourself what category I fit into.
"Ohhhh Godddd... the things you do with that tongue... aaaahhhh!!!!"
The name's Sam... Sam Spain, gumshoe for hire. For the most part, I handle small, private matters... a cheating husband, a skip trace, the occasional missing person. There's no shortage of work for an enterprising guy who's not afraid to get his hand's dirty... especially if you carry a big stick and know how to use it.
"Keep it up, baby, just a little more... I'm soooo close..."
Who's the dame? Oh, that's my secretary, Thelma. I met her about a year ago in a lounge on the East Side, on the trail of some dip who'd stolen a wallet from Baker, the landlord of the building containing my office. He dangled a year's free rent in front of me if I should find this guy and get back his wallet, though he never said what might be in it that was damned important. Using my contacts, I followed him down to a little dive where he supposedly did business with a fence named "Dr. Mesmer," the featured nightly entertainment
Thelma was waitressing, serving drinks to the five or six people scattered at small tables throughout the club. I stayed just inside the entrance to the club until she returned to the bar and sat down, then walked over to her and pulled out my lighter to start the cigarette she'd just placed in her mouth.
Looking at her over the flame, I could see that she'd probably started out hustling drinks years before, thinking that, with her looks, the tips would more than make up for the late nights, the smoky joints, and the leers and propositions of the scummy crud that hung out in such places. Now, older, wiser, and more cautious, she still knew how to fill the club's apparent uniform of the day: slit leather mini-skirt, fishnets, five-inch black heels, and a patent-leather corset that cinched up tighter around her waist and boobs. If not for the tired lines around her eyes, the yellow nicotine stains on her hands and teeth, and the signs of heavy drinking showing from the pronounced veins around her nose... she might be worth hitting once to see if it was good.
Anyway... on THAT particular day, I lit her cigarette, and asked if I could buy her a drink. She looked at me at of the corner of her eye, and, apparently liking what she saw, waved over the bartender. "Mickey, give me a straight shot of Johnny Walker." She turned to look at me. "You want somethin'?"
My eyes never left hers. "Scotch. Single malt. No ice."
Mickey left to get the drinks, and she turned to face me. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, copper? You lookin' for loot, or a body?"
"The name's Sam, and it's P.I., not P.D. And what I'm lookin' for is information about this 'Mesmer' fella' who's performing here tonight."
She mulled this over a moment as Mickey brought back our drinks. She knocked hers back with one swallow, then stubbed out her cigarette in an ashtray on the bar.
"Why don't you come with me and you can ask him yourself?" she said, taking the sleeve of my trench coat in her hand and pulling me toward a small hallway between the bar and the stage.
Warning bells started to go off in my mind; I had only wanted information about "Dr. Mesmer," not to confront him this early in the game. Still... this guy was very likely some weak-kneed performer who'd wet his pants if I came on hard and tough, giving him no chance to dance around the subject. I'd come on strong, and he'd spill the goods, and life would be sweet for all concerned, especially yours truly. So I let her pull me along toward the back of the bar.
Quickly, we were standing in front of a door marked with a gold star, underneath of which was a neatly lettered sign announcing "Dr. Mesmer - Magician of the Mind!" Thelma knocked twice, paused, and then knocked three times... apparently a pre-arranged signal between herself and the good doctor. Again, it set my senses on edge, but I reasoned it must be some way to let the performer know that he needed to answer the door because it was important.
In a moment, the door opened to a stunning sight: a small, beautiful Oriental woman dressed similarly to Thelma, only with dark hair running down to her bottom, as opposed to Thelma's short red ringlets. She smiled and nodded at Thelma, then bowed us both into the room.
Inside the small room, a fairly large man sat with his back to me, making some final adjustments to his stage makeup in a lighted mirror. When he turned around suddenly, I was startled by his appearance. He was dressed all in black from head to toe, even to wearing a black shirt under his tuxedo coat. His face was totally white; not pale, but painted white like a mime. His hair was so black and shiny against the white of his face it looked like someone had taken obsidian and spun it onto his head.
And then there were his eyes... perhaps it was some trick of the light, or specially made contacts. But his eyes had no irises or pupils. They were solid black, with red flecks surfacing from time to time, as you looked deeper within.
As he stood to cross the room, it occurred to me that this... HE was not what I expected. And, as he loomed half-a-head taller than me, he struck me as more suited for professional wrestling than a entertaining a seedy crowd at a run-down gin mill.
And, if hadn't already had hold of my hand, I think at that point I might have turned around and gotten my ass out of there.
"Ahhhh... good evening Detective... ?"
"Spain... Sam Spain, private investigator. Nice outfit. Who's your tailor, Undertakers 'R Us?"
His mouth tightened in a slight grin, but the tightening of his grip on my hand showed he was not amused. "Its something I've been wearing since before you were born, Mr. Pain."
"We'll see about that. Would you care to have a seat?"
"No, thanks. This won't take long. I've been told that you have, in the past, helped certain people with no other alternatives help to get rid of items they may have acquired in less than legitimate ways."
"In other words, that I fence stolen property, detective?"
"In so many words, yes."
He let go of my hand and sat down in a cushioned chair in the center of the floor. Quickly, the Oriental girl crossed from the door of the dressing room to a spot directly behind his chair, and began massaging his shoulders and neck.
"Detective, I neither traffic in stolen goods, nor profit from their acquisition. However, from time to time, certain... acquaintances of mine stop by to show me interesting... collectibles. Some of which I acquire for my own use."
"I see. So you buy it for yourself, instead of reselling it."
"As you say."
"And would one of these items happen to include a wallet stolen from the person of one Artie Baker on April 2nd of this year."
"I know nothing of the theft of such an item from an Artie Baker. However, I did recently come into possession of a rather special item, an ancient Sumerian change purse that allegedly never empties, allowing the possessor to have a never-ending source of money. Perhaps Mr. Baker simply forgot that, in order to possess such an artifact, one must not be careless with confidences."
"When you tell someone that they need to keep their good fortune a secret, and then, that secret is found out by a woman who was procured for a night of sexual pleasure... well, then, all deals are off."
He grinned, showing me his teeth... his white, perfectly straight teeth... including the two perfectly formed fangs protruding from his upper gums.
"Why, yes Mr. Pain. Deals with the Devil."
And then he started laughing uproariously. And I did the only sensible thing... I peed my pants.
"I just want to make sure I have this straight... you're the Devil, and you had a deal with Artie Baker that somehow involved this wallet?"
Now, believe me, those words didn't come out of mouth immediately after I peed my pants. No, tough guy that I am, it took me more than a few moments to recover my steely gaze and hard-boiled exterior.
As it was, "Dr. Mesmer" was gentlemanly about the whole thing. He offered me his bathroom to clean up, and asked if I'd hand out my pants, so they could be cleaned. Or if I'd rather wear them out like that. I accepted his offer, and before I knew it Thelma was in the bathroom with me, waiting for me to take off my pants and underwear so she could take them wherever and get them clean.
After she left, I managed to wipe most of the piss from my crotch and legs, glad that my bladder hadn't been very full. Even as I was putting the towel I had used in the hamper for used linen, Thelma was back at the door; in her hands were my pants and underwear, clean, with no hint of the 'accident' with which they had been soiled. When I went to put the pants back on, I even had to remove the customary safety pin and the tag that was attached to it.
I had to admit, the Devilish Dry Cleaning Service did really good work.
Now I was sitting in an armchair directly across from, if it was true, the Fallen Angel himself. Having a single-malt Scotch. While Thelma rubbed my back and neck.
If I had ever had reason to believe I was losing my mind, that particular scene would have cinched it.
So, with nothing to lose, I asked the first question that came to mind... about Baker's wallet.
"Yes, the wallet. Sam... I hope you don't mind if I call you Sam?... I did indeed have a deal with Artie regarding this artifact. And, anticipating your next question, it does involve claiming his soul at some point in the near future."