It was a typical evening here in the office and I was just finishing up on the accounting. Doris’ weekly pay – there, in the envelope. Two beans to rub together – nope, as usual. One bottle of … empty. Huh, go figure. Somehow not having the liquid familiar in my bottom drawer makes me uneasy; I get nervous that something will happen and I won’t have that to fall back on. I decide that I’ll make up the shortfall in Doris’ pay next week – she won’t mind and besides, most of her shirts seem to be missing one or two buttons from the top anyway. I guess I’ll buy her those missing buttons one day. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. I like the view.
Instinctively I put the bottle back in the drawer. I know the room isn’t the neatest – even I can see the dust building up from the snowshoes the spiders strap on to walk across the top of it – but I don’t like leaving the empties out; I suspect (from the rattle and chinking in that drawer) it would not look good. So I lean over to close the drawer (I have to push it from the bottom because of the weight of the empties on the runners) and I hear the door do something that it rarely does; open and close by someone else’ hand. I sit up and my trained eyes immediately tell me that I have company. Or rather, I just get my eyes above desk level and I can see the hemline of something with an eye for something cut to fit tight.
“You Raymond Bones, P.I.?” the voice attached to the skirt breathes at me.
I thought about some kind of witty comeback about being the burglar, but think better of it as I look up. Past those red lips that seem to just glow, and beneath the loose victory roll curls are two baby blues that would look so much better if they weren’t all red round the edges. This was a dame that was having trouble keeping her emotions in check, even if the visuals would suggest otherwise.
“How can I help? I’d offer you a drink but… err… Doris has gone for the evening.”
“No I’m fine thank you.”
I wave my hand towards the chair and hope that the termites haven’t made it through to dinner time yet. She puts her hand on the arm, her red finger polish contrasting with the long, pale, trembling fingers and she lowers herself into the chair. One thing’s for certain; she ain’t from round this part of the neighbourhood.
“So… “ I begin, thinking how I can ask what’s turned this possible cake topper into something that leaks more than a sinking boat. I didn’t need to worry – her nerves were so frayed that she wouldn’t be able to tie herself up in knots – and so launched into the whys.
“I’m being followed; a man is following me and everywhere I go I can see him. I don’t know what to do and so I came to you.”
“Why not go to the police?”
She laughed. “And say that? When I try to catch him he darts out of sight. I can’t be certain, but I think he’s also taken pictures of me as well.”
I think; pictures of her… well, I can understand that. But what does she mean?
“So when does he take these pictures? When you’re indoors, in bed..?”
“No! No! Just outside…” she says, as if that hadn’t crossed her mind until I put it there. Turn the worried into the paranoid, well done Ramey – you ought to put that on your poster.
“Hey, I needed to ask; I’m sure this guy’s you’re normal outdoor stalker. But why do you think you might be being followed? There may be a clue to help me.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m just a secretary for a company in the city. We were in the papers recently, made a purchase of land in midtown for a new skyscraper…”
“Bailey? The building company?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
I had read about that. The price of the land had gone up nearly four times in the last week of negotiations; unprecedented given that no-one was bidding against them and the purpose of the land was well known.
“So… look, what can I call you? I don’t like hedging for names, and I get bored with Madam quick.”
“You can call me Pamela… Pamela Hall.”
“Thanks Pamela – so what exactly do you do at Bailey?”
“I told you, I’m a secretary.”
“What, in a typing pool; or are you a personal secretary for a suit?”
“Oh, I see – I’m the personal secretary for Mr Bailey.”
My mind was whirring. Pamela seemed oblivious to the fact that the sudden price hike in Mr Bailey’s purchase (and one could assume, profit drop) could be down to someone leaking information to the land owner – and who better than the secretary to leak that information? If the literary “whodunit” was the butler, the office version would be the secretary. Still, I could do with a little exercise, so…
“OK Pamela, let’s find out who your mystery man is. I’ll need to ask for…”
I never finished that sentence. Quicker than the other greyhound in a track race (you know, the one you wished you bet on), Miss Hall had reached into her small handbag and pulled out a stack of green thicker than my best filled sandwich. The number on the top note had two zeroes on it…
“Would $1000 secure your service? Do you need more?”
Now, normally my services are quite cheap, which is why I’m usually following some cheap-cheat of a husband as he heads out to spend what little he earns either in cards, booze or cheap women – and let me tell you, those cheap women can leave you with a very expensive reminder, even if you don’t get caught. But this down payment would cover two months – and I reckon I would clear this in a day.
“I think Miss Hall, we can leave it for now. Give me a number I can contact you on and I’ll find who is following you.”
“What should I do?”
“Do whatever it is you do; we don’t want to alert our friend that we know about him. You won’t see me, but I’ll be watching him watching you.”
She smiled the smile of someone who has been saved; her smile was broader than the river that flowed and she slid from her chair and upright.
“Thank you, Mr Bones”. She turned and walked out.
Man – if only I had a camera on my desk right then. The narrow point of the stiletto ran vertically, as did the single line up the back of those legs until it stopped at the hemline; but I reckon they carried right on up to the Chattanooga.
The door did that rare thing again, and opened and closed. As the lock clicked shut and I saw Miss Hall walk out through the frosted windows, I took a deep breath, looked at the green and thought…
Maybe I’ll get two bottles tonight. Work tomorrow.