Hard-Boiled Times by giraffmang
Story of the Month contest entry
Steve Kestrel yawned. Sometimes the life of a PI bored the heck out of him. What he wouldn’t give for some action. Something to relieve the monotony. The rain pitter-pattered off the dusty windowpane of his ground floor window, sending him in its direction. Outside, the city was grey and dirty, like a particularly unhygienic elephant’s arse. He sighed and turned his attention back to his desk. The phone still sat there, not ringing. He pondered once again why he still had a landline – maybe it was just to suit the image he was going for, although a cordless phone would be much more practical. Maybe one day.
He’d really hoped Ingrid would have called. Their on and off again relationship was starting to rankle but there was something about the dame. He smiled, ‘dame’, another outmoded term but what the hey. It fit with the image even if it made for a strange juxtaposition for a cliched noir PI in the modern world. So what if it didn’t make sense… it made sense to him.
A sharp rapping on the office door brought Steve out of his musings. He cleared his throat, loosened his tie, and flopped down in the chair, throwing his feet up onto the table. “Enter.”
Steve sat bolt upright, staring at the most magnificent set of legs he’d ever seen in his life. They started, quite predictably, at the ankles and just kept on going. It took Steve several moments to realise they actually had an end.
“Mr Kestrel?” The voice was husky, like she’d spent all day barking and chasing cars.
Steve regained his cool as he staggered to his feet. “Uh-huh.”
She reached out a fine, porcelain hand. The fingernails were painted red and long enough to spear fish. Steve tentatively took her hand, careful not to open a vein.
“I’m Vanessa von Cooednutfinkovakoolname.” Her smile could have sunk the Titanic.
Steve withdrew his hand – carefully. “Uh-huh.”
She tossed her hair the way a lion shakes its mane before devouring its prey. “I get that reaction a lot. I like it.”
Steve turned his back on her to gather his thoughts but mainly to hide the protuberance in his trousers. The woman was scary, but scary good. He moved to the window, cleared his throat, and asked, “And what can I do for you, Miss…”
“Cooednutfinkovakoolname. Of the Long Island Cooednutfinkovakoolnames,” she cooed. Removing a satin handkerchief from her clutch, she dusted down the chair on her side of the desk, sat and crossed her legs. “I have a problem which I think you can help with.”
“Indeed,” Steve continued to stare at the grimy city outside the window which he so loved, “tell me more.”
“There’s this guy--”
Steve caught her reflection in the window, waving her hand dismissively, “Isn’t there always?”
“Well, he’s blackmailing me, and I want it stopped.”
“I’ll need a little more information than that.” Steve’s arousal had dissipated so he returned to his own chair.
“Okay, it started last fall. I was in a bad place. I’d had something of a meltdown, had a huge argument with Daddy who was threatening to cut me off financially speaking just as I was about to have breast reduction surgery, take a trip to Paris and then make a movie with some guy who approached me in a downtown bar. It was just awful. And to make matters worse, I was stranded in Utah.”
Steve winced, “Utah… that is bad.”
Vanessa dabbed at her eyes with another handkerchief she’d retrieved from her clutch. “You don’t need to tell me. Anyway, I had an affair with the janitor of the hotel, although I’d barely call it that, I was staying at. He was a seedy looking guy, thinning hair, no chin to speak of, and a distinct lack of personal hygiene.”
“Wow,” Steve rubbed his stubbled chin. “Things must have been bad.”
Vanessa exhaled loudly, throwing her hands into the air, “Didn’t you hear me… I was going to be cut off!”
“Tough break, kiddo.”
Staring at Steve, she replied, “Kiddo? You do realise we’re in the twenty-first century, right?” her eyes darted about the room, really taking it in. The battered metal filing cabinet, the linoleum flooring, roller blinds, ceiling fan, landline phone, polaroid camera and finally on Steve himself in his ill-fitting suit and fedora hat. “Maybe not.”
“Listen, Doll,” Steve leaned forward, elbows on the desk, “I’m one of the best, see. Ain’t nothin’ I can’t handle. Just lay it on me.”
Vanessa’s breath whistled through her teeth. “Okay, well this guy… Jasper followed me back to Long Island. He’s threatening to tell Daddy everything. I think he may even have some photographs.” She eyed Kestrel’s old polaroid on the desk. “Digital ones.”
Shock crossed Steve’s face. “What a cad! I think I can help. Do you have any idea where this Jasper might be?”
“Why, yes. He’s in the bar across the street. He was following me here and ducked in there as I entered your building.”
Steve got up. “Leave this to me.”
Steve trotted across the street, ignoring the jeers about his suit, hat, and wingtips from the kids on their cell phones. Music blasted out from the bar. There was nothing like ‘My Way’ belted out from a 2000-watt, 140 decibel, Blaupunkt stereo system, especially at 11am on a Wednesday morning in 2020. He pushed open the door and was hit by a wave of clean, smoke-free air. The smell of craft beer, wine and organic cider tickled his taste buds. He sighed, wishing for the stink of sweat, acrid smoke and hackfuls of phlegm his predecessors would have enjoyed.
He spotted Jasper by the bar immediately given Vanessa’s apt description. Jasper stuck out worse than a square at a sock-hop. Steve strode across the room and grabbed Jasper by the scruff of the neck and marched him toward the men’s room. Jasper put up a heck of a fight.
“Please, Mister, don’t make me go in there. I don’t identify as male!” Jasper screeched.
Steve paused. “What in the heck are you babbling about?”
Jasper tried to pull himself together. “I identify as a multi-binary, inter-dimensional, monkey loving, craft beer swilling, non-white latte, hair-challenged vegan.”
Confusion swamped Kestrel’s face, “Well, ain’t that a pip. Fine, we’ll talk here. Hand them over.”
Jasper stared blankly at the PI. “Hand what over?”
Steve shook him by the shoulders, “What’s so funny?”
“No one has actual photos anymore, man. There’re up there.” Jasper pointed upwards.
“You have a room upstairs?”
“No, man. The photos are up there, in the ether, floating about in cyber space. The internet… the cloud, man.” Amusement danced in Jasper’s eyes.
“I have literally no idea about anything you just said but so help me, if you don’t hand them over, things are goin’ to get rough.”
Jasper sighed. “Okay, okay. Whose photos?”
“How many dames’ photos do you have?”
Jasper just shrugged sheepishly.
“Vanessa von Cooednutfinkovakoolname’s.”
“No problem. She’s a bit scary anyway.”
Jasper fished about in his pocket and withdrew his I-phone X. Steve watched incredulously as images and photos flitted across the screen with each deft flick of Jasper’s fingers. Eventually Jasper alighted on Vanessa’s pics. He showed Steve as he deleted them.
When Jasper was finished, Steve grunted, “So, that’s it?”
“Yep. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had my eye on a nice little schoolteacher from Manhattan who appears to be a bit of a freak.”
Steve released Jasper and watched him leave the bar. “I need a drink.”
Later that evening, Steve Kestrel stood staring out the grimy window of his ground floor office. Vanessa had been gone by the time he returned, like a fart in the wind. He mentally kicked himself when he realised they’d never discussed a fee. He briefly wondered how many Cooednutfinkovakoolname’s there were in the city and how easy it’d be to track her down. He concluded it just wasn’t worth the effort.
Kestrel closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Maybe his time was done. It was getting harder to know who to trust. Things were changing in the city. He wasn’t oblivious. Maybe it was time to move on. Taking a step back he looked at his reflection. Maybe it was time to say goodbye to the fedora, suit and wingtips. He tried to picture himself wide-collared shirts and wide legged trousers. “Maybe it’s time to give Disco a chance….”
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