The fist came out of the blackness and connected with my jaw, making me see stars and taste blood. I felt around with my tongue. Good, no loose choppers. Yet.
“Listen up and listen good you dope: Mr. McClaren wants his property back, and he’s hired me to get it. So, you wanna do this the hard way or the easy way?”
The voice came from the out of the darkness, beyond the circle of light that surrounded the chair I was tied to.
“Well, what’s it’s gonna be?”
I kept my mouth shut and tried to think.
More stars and more blood.
“Where is it? C,mon you know better than this, you been around. It’s only gonna get worse. Start flappin’ your lips.”
He was right. I knew better. But there was a dame involved and it somehow always got complicated when there was a dame involved. I kept quiet.
“Son of a bitch Smythe! You’re a fat-head. You know that?”
There was a noise of metal scratching metal then a flash of flame and the WHOOSH of some sort of cutting torch a few inches from my face. It was damn hot. I tried not to flinch. I failed.
“Take a good look Smythe, this is what’s next. Now I’m gonna do something for you that I don’t normally do. I’m gonna give you time to think about what’s gonna happen instead of using this right away. Call it professional courtesy. Me and Denny here are gonna go have a drink. You got about ten minutes to use what little brains you got to think of an answer. Think hard.”
The torch went out with a pop and a door opened somewhere behind me. I could see the room I was in for a few seconds while I heard them shuffle out the door – it was bare except for another chair and small table with the torch on it. Then door closed and it was just me and the circle of light again.
Think hard? Yeah, I was thinking alright. Thinking Why the hell did I take this job in the first place? But who was I kidding? I knew why, she was the reason why. Dammit.
About a week prior I’d left Mario’s around two in the morning and started walking to my car when I’d heard some people yelling in the alley alongside the restaurant. Now normally I’m a smart guy and I don’t go looking for trouble, but when I realized one of the voices was a woman what could I do? I legged it down the alley and came up behind two creeps. They had cornered a dame between a dumpster and the wall. She was holding a length of pipe and was waving it back and forth, fending them off. The two guys were trying to work their way past the pipe so one or the other could grab her. The dame was a real looker. She had long blonde hair, big green eyes and plenty of curves that were stuffed into a red silk number that stopped just past the knees on the best set of gams I ever laid eyes on.
I reached down and picked up an empty Scotch bottle from the ground, left there by some wino. Cocking my arm back I brought it down on the head of one of the toughs, knocking him out with a SMASH! The other creep turned around, a look of complete surprise on his ugly mug, shocked to see me standing there over his buddy. The dame took a step forward and laid him out with a swing of the pipe to the side of his head that would have made The Babe proud.
She hitched the pipe back over her shoulder and stared at me, ready for another swing.
“Who are you?” she asked in a firm, silky voice.
Not as helpless as she lets on, I thought.
“Dirk. Dirk Smythe.” I dropped the broken bottle.
“Well Mr. Smythe, thank you for your assistance.” The pipe lowered, but not all the way.
“You’re welcome, Miss… uhm…”
“Miss Porter. You gonna be alright now?” I asked, poking at one of the unconscious creeps with my foot.
She glanced down and then back up at me. I could tell she was sizing me up.
“I suppose I could use an escort home, if it’s not too much to ask.” She dropped the pipe and batted those big green eyes at me.
“Not at all. If you need a safe place to stay my office is only a block away. No one would know you were there.”
“Your office? What is it you do, Mr. Smythe?”
“I’m a gumshoe. You know, a Private Investigator.”
She smiled, showing off a perfect set of pearly whites. “Call me Colette.”
Right then is when I should have known to just walk away. Did I mention her big green eyes?
My thoughts were dragged back to my current situation by what sounded like gunshots from the other room. I strained against the ropes holding me to the chair. No good. I was making some headway but it was slow going. Whoever tied me up knew what they were doing.
The door opened and closed. I heard someone walk across the room and sit in the other chair.
I waited for the shot I knew was coming.
“What did you tell them?”
“Did you tell them about me? About the envelope?”
“No! Untie me and let’s get out of here!”
“What did you say to them?”
“Are you nuts? Look at me! If I told them anything would I look like this?”
“Do you still have it?”
“Yeah, I told you, I never spilled my guts.”
“Where is it?”
“What the hell is going on? Get me out of here!”
Well, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. And not because it was dark either.
“I asked you where it is.” Her perfectly manicured hand slid out of the darkness and into the circle of light, holding a .38 aimed at my chest. I was beginning to catch on.
“In my right shoe.”
“What? Your shoe?”
“Yeah, it’s got a hollow heel. Take your damn envelope. I never opened it, just like you asked.”
The hand holding the gun slipped away and a few seconds later I could feel her fumbling with my shoe, removing it. There was the sound of tearing paper.
“My, my… how honest and reliable you are.” Her hand appeared in the light again, this time holding a key.
“Yeah, well, I tend to be that way for my friends.”
“Is that all we were, friends?” She laughed. The hand disappeared into the gloom.
I heard her walking away, saw the room again as she opened the door.
“You’re just gonna ditch me here?”
“I needed a patsy and now you’re of no further use to me darling, ta ta.”
The door closed.
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
I don’t know how long I was struggling to get free, worried that someone else would show up. Eventually I got loose, put my shoe back on and checked out the other room.
Sitting at a table were whom I can only assume were Denny and his boss. Each of them had a hole in his chest and my best guess was they’d been made by a .38 that had been held in a well-manicured hand. On the table was a note, written in bright red marker. It read “McClaren, I’m still one step ahead. Colette”
One step ahead are you darling?
I had seen the key up close when she held in the light and I recognized the initials stamped on it: “T. T. D.” – Third and Townsend Depot, San Francisco’s main railway station.
I headed for the door.