I leaned back in my chair, eased my feet up onto my mahogany desk, tilted my hat to cover one eye and with my other eye watched the sun filter through the yellow haze of San Jose. I rolled a cigarette back and forth between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand as the smoke drifted slowly upward through the wooden beams of my office where it disappeared from sight. In my left hand I loosely held the morning edition of the Mercury News rolled into a tight rod. It was Monday. Work was slow on Mondays and so was I. It worked out fine. As my eyes began to close and the paper slipped from my hand to the floor, there came a faint knock at the door. I opened one eye to see a single silhouette waiting outside the door to my office. I knew the story already. I'd heard it a thousand times. I'd tell her to come in. She'd step inside, hesitantly, and gently shut the door behind her. She would step out of the shadows and into the light of the early sun streaming through the window. She'd stand before me, silent. I'd look her over. Her long red dress with the black trim would hardly hide the perfect figure beneath it. Her shining blonde hair would fall over one eye and she'd brush it back with her hand, revealing a diamond ring and gold band. She'd tell me her story. Her husband was cheating on her; she knew it. She needed evidence to confront him. He was a very rich and powerful man and so I would need to be discrete. And very careful. She'd occasionally begin to tremble as she told me all this, but she would quickly regain her stature. She wanted to be strong. After she'd tell me her story she'd wait for me to say something. Slowly, I would slide my feet off the desk, take a last drag on my cigarette and crush it out in my ashtray, and walk around the desk to stand in front of her. "I'll do what I can, sweetheart," I'd say, and she'd fall into my arms. It happened all the time.
"Come in, it's open," I said in my best Bogey drawl to the silhouette that still stood outside my office. She stepped inside, hesitantly, gently shutting the door behind her. She stepped out of the shadows and into the light of the early sun streaming through the window. She stood before me, silent. I looked her over. Her long brown coat was well worn and very much hid her middle aged body which had no doubt seen many child bearing years. Her black hair, unkempt but clean, fell in front of her face and she brushed it back with her hand revealing the rough calluses of someone who has worked her entire life for the few pleasures she still had. Well, thing aren't always what you want them to be.
That, in fact, could be the motto of my life. No beautiful blondes ever did fall into my arms. I never had to beat off a pack of irate KGB agents after foiling their attempts to steal high technology secrets for their evil purposes. And not once have I been invited to the White House, secretly or otherwise, to receive a Congressional Medal of Extreme Bravery. But I've got my dreams.
I didn't start out to be a private detective. I started out as an engineer here in the Silicon Valley. I had my dreams then too. I dreamed of designing the perfect doohicky. Something that everyone could use and no one could live without. I'd start a company, buy out Microsoft, and retire at age 30. I'd start collecting things: paintings, coins, politicians, women. Perfect.
I invented a few of these perfect doohickies, too. Only they weren't so perfect. Not everyone could use them and most everyone, it turned out, could live without them. When my money ran out I went to work for Megatechnologies Incorporated, one of the large industrial conglomerates here in the valley. I still had my dreams. But dreams don't impress managers and when "The Big Layoff" came, I went.
I decided then that engineering wasn't for me. There was no glamour in it. There was no travel to exotic places. There was no thrill. And there were certainly no women. I had some money saved up so I took the time to decide on the perfect career. It was at an all night showing of James Bond flicks at the New Varsity Theater in Palo Alto when it occurred to me. I think it was the end of You Only Live Twice, where Sean Connery, after leading an army of highly trained Ninja into an underground rocket launch pad, rescues American and Soviet astronauts, escapes the evil clutches of Blofeld and SPECTRE and essentially saves the entire world from mass destruction, he floats away into the Japanese sunset in a life raft with a beautiful half-naked (presumably soon to be fully-naked) woman. That's for me. Why not? Since I could remember I'd been fascinated with detective work. I grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown and soon graduated to Sherlock Holmes. Every Sunday night I'd eagerly await the NBC Sunday Mystery movie with Columbo or McCloud. I can't remember happier times than the arrival of a long awaited James Bond film. It was my destiny!
I went out and took the test for my detective's license. I enrolled in an intensive karate course. I bought a gun and joined a pistol range. I found the perfect office in downtown San Jose on the second floor of an office building in one of the seedier neighborhoods. It had atmosphere. Wooden beams ran across the high, arched ceiling. I covered the cracks in the plaster with movie posters and pinup calendars. I drew a bull's-eye on the wall opposite my desk and was often tempted to do a little close range pistol practice. I figured my neighbors wouldn't appreciate it. I kept a metal filing cabinet against the wall and next to it my bookcase filled with Ellery Queen, Agatha Cristie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum, and others. Maybe one day I'd write about my own true-life adventures and join the elite crowd who now inhabited my bookshelves.
But my adventures weren't what I'd expected. I tracked husbands a lot. Or wives. I took pictures, made recordings, and sat in the witness stand for a number of divorce cases. Once I trailed a murder suspect, but my evidence showed he was innocent. I investigated a few liquor store robberies. I never used my gun, never used my karate, and never floated off into the Japanese sunset with a half-naked woman. I once got kissed by a sixty-year-old grandmother for recovering some stolen heirlooms. I take what I can get.
I walked into the Wrangler bar and looked around. I was supposed to meet her here but I didn't see her. I was early, so I walked up to the bar to order a drink. The Wrangler. Not very appropriately named if you ask me. The name brings to mind pictures of a big, sprawling place filled with massive men in cowboy hats and boots and earthy women in lacey blouses with short denim skirts. A country western band with a Dolly Parton lookalike lead singer should croon to a dance floor full of Texas two-steppers. Not at the Wrangler. Here men in three piece suits or polo shirts and dry cleaned corduroys dance with women in designer dresses under flashing lights to the recorded sounds of Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper. They don't wash down their burritos with Budweiser; they munch on nachos, sip their Baileys, and impress each other with their knowledge of stocks and options.
I noticed an empty barstool next to a rather nice looking blonde in a long, black, backless dress. I sidled up to the bar, as they say, slid onto the stool, and ordered myself a vodka tonic. It came; I paid the bartender, and felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a very large man put his hand on my shoulder. I looked him over. He was about six foot five and a hundred and ninety five pounds. He wore a polo shirt, of course, one size too small, to show off his big chest and powerful arms. "That's my seat, buddy" he said, looking me in the eye. I looked back at him, not saying a word. "Maybe you didn't hear me, dweeb. That's my seat. Move or get moved." I sized him up.
I stepped off the stool and bent slightly to cough. As I did so, I felt his grip weaken only slightly. His attention diverted I had only seconds to react. With practiced precision I shot my left arm upward, forcing my middle knuckle into his wrist. He winced and let go of my shoulder. Spinning around to face him I rocketed my right hand upward, palm extended, using the momentum of my body for extra force. My palm contacted his jaw and I heard the familiar sound of breaking bone. He fell to the ground. Looking down at him I said, "The seat's all yours, buddy." Out of the corner of my eye I saw the blonde looking at me with admiration.
"I'm still waiting, guy," he said, pressing my shoulder. I grabbed my drink and squeezed away from the bar, still looking him in the eyes. "Asshole," I said under my breath as he hopped onto the barstool and began talking to the blonde, who started giggling. I should have nailed him, I thought. Some other time, maybe. I'm too busy right now. I'm working on a case.