This Week’s Word: Alphabets

Alphabets is a hard word to write about. I came up with a unique solution. Its not a perfect solution, but its as close as I’m going to come, I think. It was fun to write and let me explore the genre of crime noir, which I have always liked. That being said, settle down now for…

The Case of the Missing Heir
A Dick Lamont Mystery

Part 1

A cool breeze blew across the city. It was the first cool air people had felt all summer. You could judge its effects all over town. On the upper west side, people, trapped in their air conditioned rooms for the last two months actually poked their heads outside, you could see some of them heading down to the park for a stroll or a picnic lunch.

But down south, past the dye works, the people weren’t so lucky. The breeze died out before it got to them, like so many other promises made by the city – it was good for the folks with money, but tended to run out of steam when it got down to the less privileged.

Come around my neighborhood, you won’t see the privileged few, guys in three piece suits being driven to their brokerage firms. My upstairs neighbor is a retired prize fighter, took one too many blows to the head, now he works as a pipe fitter. Next door, there’s a lady who makes a good living being “friendly” to people, if you know what I mean. Most people from uptown wouldn’t be caught dead coming to my office, but, apparently, the woman sitting across from me was different. That’s the thing about being a private detective, people may not invite you to the posh parties, but they’re always glad to see you when the chips are down.

“Doll” wouldn’t even begin to describe her. Her name was Roberta Greenmount and she was quality all the way from her custom tailor suit-dress all the was down to her silk stockings and direct-from-Paris heels. She sat across the desk from me, looking me over like I was something she found in her toilet. I didn’t mind, though. You don’t hire a private eye for his looks, you hire him for results, and I was the best in the business.

“Everyone else has told me its nothing,” she said, “but I know something’s wrong. Deep down, I can tell,” her voice choked a bit, as she spoke. She was either sincere, or a better actress than Helen Hayes. I was voting for sincere.

“Freddy’s been missing for longer than this before,” she went on, after staunch a few sniffles on a handkerchief, “He’s a bit of a wild child. Father always insisted on spoiling him when he was younger. Freddy has a self-destructive streak. There are binges, you know, women, gambling, even some drugs, but deep down…deep down he’s a….” she started sobbing.

“Good kid,” I finished for her. She nodded.

How do you tell somebody that their brother is a louse? I’d given up trying. They could have stolen the family silver, hocked grandma’s wedding ring and spent the whole was on booze and hookers, but he’s still a “good kid” deep down, underneath. It always seemed to be the sisters that came after them too. Families are funny that way.

“I get $150 a day plus expenses,” I said to her. I tried to be gruff, but when I said it she broke into a million dollar smile. After a smile like that, I would have done the case for nothing.

“Just so we’re clear,” I say to her, to try to bring us both back down to Earth, “I get my money no matter what. Even if he’s been killed, arrested or what have you. You get me?”

“K-killed? Oh, Mr. Lamont, you don’t think….”

“Look at it from my position,” I say, “You say your brother has been missing for a week. You tell me he gets wild, goes on binges. A man like that can make a lot of enemies.” I’m trying to prepare her for the worst, but I guess, I’m too much of a gentleman, because I smile and try to soften the pill a little bit, “Of course, that’s probably not what happened, but you have to be prepared for anything.”

“My word’s my bond, Mr Lamont,” she says, the determined look on her face just makes me fall in love with her that much more, “You’ll be paid no matter what.” She reaches across the desk to give me her hand.

“Nice to have an understanding,” I say, shaking her hand, “Now when did you last see your brother?”

“Our family owns a ranch, about ten miles outside of town. Freddy has a room there, he usually stays there when he’s on the outs with father – which is most of the time,” she adds with a smile, “I saw him when I stopped by there last Sunday. I can take you out there, if you like.”

“Probably as good a place to start as any,” I say with a shrug, and I get up and grab my hat.

“Quite a place,” I say to Roberta, when we get to to the ranch.

“Really, Mr Lamont, you flatter us,” she says, flashing me another award winning smile, “Its just a ranch house.”

“Sure,” I say, because I don’t want to embarrass her, but most people on the south side would have called her simple little “ranch house” a mansion. Then there was the land, it was on a twenty acres lot if it was on an inch. Money is a funny thing. A guy might get a $20 bonus in his paycheck and flaunt it like he was the King of Egypt. Other people might be rich as Creosus, but actually seemed embarassed by it. Roberta was definitely one of those.

The inside of the house was dark and musty. I could tell nobody lived here on a permanent, at least for very long. We walked into the den. On one wall was a TV set that was bigger than my entire office. There was a door to the left that looked like it opened into some kind of office. There was a staircase that led to the second floor.

Up the steps I could here the sound of water running. Roberta told me that it was probably Zachariah. She didn’t call him such he sounded like the old family retainer. They let him live here, in exchange for him taking care of the house and grounds. Sounded like a good deal to me.

“Vera, my little sister, doesn’t like this place much,” said Roberta, “Mostly its just Freddy and my father who come out here, and father just comes out to do work for the environmental group he chairs.”

While she’s talking, I take a stroll into her dad’s office.

Xeroxes were stacked all around the room. There’s a small copier in the corner. They’re the cheap kind of fliers that you see hippies hand out at Anti-Nuke rallies. They all seem to be protesting something called the Cedar Hill Development Group.

“You wouldn’t think to look at him,” said Roberta, “But my father is quite the activist.” The pride she feels is obvious in her voice, “I remember, once…” but the words die in her throat, and instead of singing some more of her old man’s praises, she screams, and points to a dark figure in the corner of the room. For a minute, I thought it was a pile of laundry, but it was too wet, too shiny.

“Zachariah!” Roberta screams, “He’s been murdered!”

To be continued (or not)…..

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