I don't wear trenchcoats normally. That's important. It's about the only thing I feel you need to be informed of before the story starts, so it's good to get it out at the beginning. Now that you understand it, we can move on.

I was wearing a trenchcoat the day the man in the wheelchair showed up, but that was only because of a bet. Business had been pretty slow for a while, and I was mostly living off of money from other odd jobs, so I let my friend Beth make me bet that I wouldn't get any more business if I dressed and acted exactly like the Philip Marlowe type for a week, not that I'd ever actually red those books. So for the past five days I had worn an old tan trenchcoat and a fedora hat, turned off almost all of the lights in my office, and said my inner monologue out loud, which were together enough to frighten one customer away and get a second to hire me to find his cat (though he referred to it as a dame.) On Saturday, normally a fairly quiet day, someone knocked on the door, which was a fairly normal wooden door in an office building and didn't involve pebbled glass, though it did have Malcolm Fiddler on it in letters that were technically peeling slightly. There was also a fly buzzing around in there at the time. Please permit my internal noir sleuth to tell you the next part of the story.

The computer on the desk, meticulously set up earlier, emitted the periodic buzzing noise of busted neon and bathed the office in its glow as the door opened and then swung back partway, knocking against something hard that shoved it further open as it came in. A man walked—no—rolled in, a gust of fetid LA air gusting in with him gustily. He was short, real short, though maybe he woulda been taller standing up. He wore a black suit over a black shirt with a dark red tie, and he glanced around warily as he came into the room. His face looked young and fairly handsome, short black hair, sunglasses. He rolled over towards my desk, looking me over with gray eyes as he took off the glasses. He couldn't see much. I was leaning back against the wall in my chair, feet up on the desk and my hat over my face, tapping one foot against the other without in a rhythm he couldn't hear. I wondered what he wanted. Probably the same things they always do. He blinked, and looked at me closer.

"Mr. Fiddler? What are you wearing under that trenchcoat?" he asked (his voice quick and inquisitive, his eyes suspicious.) I lifted the hat with the tip of one finger, peering up at him from under it.

"This guy was asking too many questions. I didn't like him. A T-shirt and jeans, actually, but don't tell anyone. What d'you need?"

He blinked again. "I need help finding a lost item, actually. It's very valuable."

"Of course he did," I voice-overed (it probably would have been more entertaining if I was a better ventriloquist.) "They always do, and it's always valuable, or else it's a dame. Alright, fine, but I need more to go on than that. 'Less you want me to get the nearest very valuable item and give it to you, which will probably cost a lot."

"Look, if you're willing to be serious, I'm prepared to give you a thousand dollars up front and two thousand more if you get me this item back."

I pulled my feet back off of the desk, the chair tipping forward with a thump, and pulled the hat off, short brown hair showing over matching brown eyes. "Yessir. What is this item?"

"It's a coffin. Yes, I'm serious, let's please skip that bit of the conversation."

For a thousand up front, sure. "Okay then. Coffin. Dimensions? Color, materials, weight…contents?…"

His mouth twisted into a wry smile. "I suppose I asked for that. It's a diamond shape with chopped-off top and bottom, 6'3'' tall and 2' wide at the shoulder, black. It's made of cedar, probably weighs maybe one hundred fifty pounds including the contents, which is a bunch of dirt. No, there's no body."

I finished scribbling all this into a PDA a couple seconds afterwards, then looked through it. "Huh. It doesn't have something about the Bird of Hermes written on the front or anything, does it?"

He blinked, which he'd done rather a lot since he'd entered the office, but this one seemed a bit different. I'm not really a great PI mostly because I'm not as observant as I might be, but this I noticed. He got the reference but he didn't want me to know. Which is odd. "No, nothing on the front. It's a fairly standard coffin; it's mainly special because of what's in it. We bought it for my uncle, shipped it back to England to be filled with earth. He had this hang-up on English soil. He was born across the pond, and he always loved this line of an old poem, "If I should die, think only this of me: that there's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England." He wanted to be sure that would apply to him, so he figured he needed some English soil to put on his gravesite. I think he'd got it backwards, but it's his only wish for his own death, so we figured we'd oblige him. We went looking on the internet—it turns out there's a company that will send you British soil at quite reasonable rates. We paid them to put it in a coffin and ship it to us, which they did, but then when we went to the airport to pick it up, it turns out someone had already been there claiming to be us and taken it away. I can't say that I have any idea why someone would want to steal a coffin full of dirt, but—" he shrugged— "there you have it."

"And this coffin is worth three thousand dollars to you? Plus fifty a day stipend and expenses?" Hey, I was broke.

He snorted. "Yes, but don't push it. Uncle's funeral is in a week. We'll need it by then. Can you do it?"

I had no idea. "Of course," I said. "Where can I contact you?" I took the card he extended.

Allan Slaugh

Specialist

We provide services when others can't.

I raised my eyebrows at him. He shrugged. "I'm a private person." There was a phone number on the back. He reached into a small pocket on the side of his chair and drew out some sort of shipping invoice with the airport and flight and so on, handing it across the desk, along with a check for the thousand. "I hope you can get this done, Mr. Fiddler, it's quite important to my family." He turned around and rolled out of the office, leaving me a looking bemusedly at the papers.