After dropping Robert off by the Sunset Club, I headed to my office. I work out of a shabby little place in San Pedro, right on the beach. It used to be a motor court back in the 1950s and '60s, but some wanna-be entrepreneur converted the place to offices back in the '70s. He was probably expecting to fill the place up with real-estate agents and other respectable tenants, but he failed to take the neighborhood into account. He also failed to pull the old hotel sign out of the parking lot. As a result of these oversights, the offices, rather than being filled with up-and-coming businessmen, are filled with loan sharks, fake movie producers who really just want to meet the starlets, and private detectives like myself. You know. The scum of society. It's not exactly the classiest place to hang out, but the rent is good.
I passed the burnt-out sentinel that was the old SUMMERLAND HOTEL sign and parked as close to the building as possible. I walked over to one of the stairwells and climbed the crumbling concrete steps to the second level. I turned left and walked down the walkway to door 227.
I paused to consider the black lettering that adorned 227's window:
SHECKLEY & MARSH
I felt a smile tugging at the corners of my lips. When my partner had suggested putting the letters up in the window, I had objected. It seemed to me to be the corniest thing a detective could do, way too film-noir for my tastes. All we needed, I said, was to replace the clear glass with some that was pebbled, and then we would be perfect cliche private eyes. Marsh had insisted, though, and I eventually gave in. Looking at the glass now, I was glad Marsh had talked me past my cynicism. I still thought it was a little cheesy, but in a charming way that I could live with.
I unlocked my door with my free hand. I stepped inside and set Jerzy's things down on the table to the right of the door. I closed the door behind me.
Our front room, or "lobby," wasn't really much of a workplace; besides the aforementioned table by the door, there was a small kitchenette with nothing in the fridge but pickles and Coca-Cola, a ratty-looking sofa I had picked up at a thrift store in Van Nuys, a coffee table that had seen better days, and a small analog TV set that sat on a stand with wheels. A closet was set into the wall to the left of the door, and three doors faced the front door. The door in the center was the bathroom, the door left of center led to my office, and the door to the right led to Marsh's office.
I checked the clock that hung above the couch. Twelve-forty. Marsh would be coming in any moment. I switched on the TV and flopped down in my usual place on the couch. I hoped that Marsh was bringing lunch; I had been plenty busy today, and I hadn't eaten yet.
As if on cue, the front door flew open and Beverly Marsh came in. She was wearing a dark-blue swimsuit that hugged her figure with a death-grip. The dark color of the suit contrasted well with her creamy complexion and blonde hair, making both almost seem to glow. She clutched a Burger King bag in one hand and two sodas under her arm. She fixed her green eyes on me and smiled.
"Whoppers," she said, holding up the bag. She started to put the bag down on the table by the door, but paused when she saw the letters and pad.
"What's all this?" she asked, waving the bag over the papers.
"Case work," I said.
"Well, it's in my way," Bev said as she walked over to the coffee table. "Why can't you keep your paperwork in your office?" She had a wicked, mischievous grin spread across her face, and I immediately felt grateful that I was an older man and had passed my hormonal stage. If Bev were to turn that smile on someone her own age, someone in their late twenties or early thirties, their knees would turn to jello and their brains would turn to clay, ready to be sculpted by Bev's agile hands. With somebody of my advanced years, though, it did nothing. Age does have its benefits. Oh, sure, and having an anti-mind control superpower probably helps, too.
"Hey! I've been busy. I wanted to make sure we were ready for our appointment," I said, smiling back at her. "I'm not like some who always cut it close."
Bev's eyes flitted up toward the clock, then back to me. "Okay, okay," she said. She moved to the closet, opened the door, and pulled out a hanging clothes bag. "I'll be back," she said as she moved toward the bathroom. "Don't eat any of my fries."
"No promises," I called as the bathroom door shut.
I stared at the TV. It was showing a local commercial for the Hamburger Hamlet in Sherman Oaks, but I was really thinking about Bev and how lucky I was to have her as a partner. One of Bev's favorite jokes was that she got all the sexy cases while I did all the grunt work. This was true; while Bev had been spending time down at the beach investigating the drug trade among the surfers, I was usually trailing cheating husbands. Bev was always quick to add, though, that I was the one who paid the bills, because the adultery cases came in a lot more often than murders, drug deals, or anything like that. Really, the Jerzy case was more Bev's territory than my own. I was confident that I could take care of the case, of course; who couldn't, with my special abilities and all? However, it was strange to take on such a high-stakes case. I hoped it wouldn't take me too long to get into the groove.
Bev emerged from the bathroom wearing faded denim cut-off shorts and a stone-washed Clint Eastwood T-shirt. She took the hanging bag, now, I assumed, carrying her wet swimsuit, to the closet and placed it inside. She closed the closet and plopped herself onto the sofa next to me.
"What'd I miss?" Bev asked.
"A couple commercials," I said.
Bev checked her watch. "One more minute," she said.
"Less, even," I replied, smiling. Bev smiled back.
As if on cue, the commercials ended and an hourglass appeared on the screen. A resonant voice poured out of the TV: "As sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives."
"Ugh," I said, rolling my eyes. "I can't believe you make me watch this every day."
Bev playfully smacked me on the shoulder. "I don't make you do anything. You don't have to show up."
Bev was right. There had been a time that I had watched the show under duress, but that had only lasted one day when I had happened to be in the office when Bev switched on the TV. I had flitted my eyes to the screen for a moment, just out of curiosity, and before I knew it, I was watching the whole thing. What can I say? Soap operas are addicting.
We were halfway through the hour of drama when the door flew open. It hit the table and almost rebounded back into the doorframe, but it was stopped by a large hand at the end of a blue-clad, brawny arm.
A groan escaped my lips before I could bite it back. There are lots of cliches about private detectives I've managed to avoid, but there's one I haven't managed to dodge: a contempt for the cops. The boys in blue and I have never gotten along well, even in my superhero-ing days; you know, the whole "he's a vigilante!" thing and all.
However, most of the cops in Los Angeles adapt a live-and-let-live philosophy: don't bother them, and they won't bother you. However, every police department has its self-appointed supercops, those guys who see themselves as knights in shining blue armor. Scott Snyder, the big guy struggling to get through my doorway, was one such supercop.
"Hey there, Snyder," I said, guiding my words around the chunk of Whopper in my mouth. "Out collecting your protection money?"
Snyder shot me the evil eye. "That's a low blow, even for you," he said.
"You deserve nothing better," I said.
After some jostling, Snyder finally managed to fit his girth through the doorway. He pointed a sausage finger at me.
"I'll take a lot of crap from you, Sheckley," he said, "But I'm not about to be called a dirty cop."
"Okay, darling," I said. "I'm sorry I hurt your fragile little feelings."
"At least I don't hang out with college girls," Snyder said. "I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a dirty old man."
Beverly cast a disinterested glance at Snyder. She rolled her eyes and let them rest on the TV again.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm a scumbag," I said. "What're you doing on my turf?"
Snyder opened his mouth, only to snap it shut again as another figure appeared in the doorway. This guy was dressed in the blue-and-badge, too, but he was slimmer and younger than Snyder. His hat was cocked sideways on his head, but it wasn't a defiant gesture or anything like that; it looked more like he had had a hard day and stiff gust of wind had knocked his hat askew. Tufts of blond hair stuck up around his hat. His hand kept running down his riot club.
As soon as this young buck had appeared in the doorway, his eyes had fixed on Bev. I cast a sideways look at Beverly and saw that her eyes were fixed on him, too. She held her soda suspended in the air, halfway along the arc between table and mouth. I inwardly rolled my eyes. A twitterpated partner was the last thing I needed. I would deal with that later, though. For now, I wanted to find out who this new punk was, and why Snyder was filling my office with his flab.
"Who's your little friend?" I asked Snyder, indicating the guy in the doorway.
Snyder looked at the kid. "Oh. That's Hennessey. This is his first week."
"New meat, eh?" I said. I smiled at Hennessey. "Come on in. I'll take it easy on you."
Hennessey shuffled into the room. He kept his gaze locked on Beverly, and Bev kept her gaze locked on him.
I nodded toward Hennessey's hat. "Word of advice, kid. When you enter a room where a lady is, you should take off your hat."
"Oh!" Hennessey whipped off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair. He blushed the shade of a red delicious apple. "Sorry," he told Bev.
"It's all right," Beverly said as she flashed her friendliest smile.
Snyder snorted. "Imagine, old gutter rat Sheckley teaching manners."
"And what about you, kindly Officer Krupke?" I said. "To what do we owe the honor of this visit?"
"Did you speak with Louisa Hart earlier today?" Snyder asked.
"Yeah," I said. "Why?"
"Why were you there?"
"A kid hired me to find his sister. Jerzy Ford."
"I know her name."
"Oooh, look at the big brain on Snyder."
Hennessy let out a small snort of laughter. Snyder shot the kid a glare, and I shot the kid a grin. The kid was a cop, but I liked him.
Snyder turned his attention back to me. "Did you take things from Ms. Ford's apartment?"
"Yeah," I said.
"It's called evidence, Snyder," Bev said.
"Shut your face, you little tramp," Snyder said.
"Hey!" Hennessey chimed in. "I don't think that was appropriate-"
"You shut up, too," Snyder said. "If I want you to talk, I'll tell you. And why aren't you taking notes?"
Beverly gave her defender a warm smile. Hennessy smiled back as he fumbled for his notepad.
Snyder looked at me. "I need those things back."
"Hart said you guys searched the apartment," I said.
"And I was told you'd taken all you needed."
"Well, we didn't," Snyder said. He looked at the mess of papers and the notebook on the side table. "Is that the stuff?"
"Yeah," Bev cut in. "What about it?"
"We need it," Snyder said.
"And may I ask what for?" I said.
"Because we think it might have some bearing on the case," Snyder said.
"I'd say that's a fair deduction."
"Coming from you, that means very little," Snyder said.
"But you're forgetting one thing. I'm on the same case. Those papers have some bearing to me, too."
"You can have them back when we're done."
"Oh, boy!" I said in my most sarcastic tone. I checked my watch. "By my reckoning, that means I'll have them in… oh, about fifty years. Bev and your friend will be collecting Social Security by then."
Snyder shrugged. "That's the way the ball bounces." He nodded toward Hennessey. "Grab the stuff."
"Hey!" Bev rose from her spot on the couch, propelled by a righteous anger I'd never seen in her before. "You have no right-"
Snyder fixed Bev with a cold glare. "Sheckley," he said, "You better tell your squeeze to cool her jets before I nail her for obstruction of justice."
Calming Beverly down was the last thing I wanted to do, but I didn't want to see my partner behind bars, either. I had no doubt that Snyder would nail Bev with every charge he could.
I placed my hand on the back of Bev's leg. "Let him do what he wants," I said. "It's not worth it."
Bev looked at me. I could see the fire dying in her eyes as she looked into mine. She looked at Hennessey, as did I. Hennessey gifted us both with a sincere-looking "I'm sorry" look. Bev looked back at me and nodded. She sank back into her spot on the sofa.
Snyder smiled. His face rippled with fat as he did so.
"I'm glad you two are finally seeing the light," Snyder said. He turned to face Hennessey. "Grab the stuff and let's go."
Hennessey bent over and gathered the papers. Snyder shoved his partner out the door with his stomach. Snyder took a little longer to squeeze through the opening, but he eventually did. The door closed behind them.