Thursday, December 6, 2007

Detective Story

I had just wrapped up an ugly divorce case and was pouring gin in my office when in walks this leggy dame. One look at the lamé stilettos and the coiffed poodle in her arms and I knew this broad was class. "What can I do you for?" I asked, sitting down and propping up my wing tips.

"I need to find someone. Tonight." She leaned across the desk, gravity doing a number on her blouse. That got my attention fast. Damn yap of a dog had to spoil it by growling.

"Yeah? Who? Boyfriend? Ex-lover?"

"Editor. I've got a hot title going to auction. I need to know if he wants a piece of the action. Seems I picked up one of his minions for a client and she insists he get a look. Nitwits -- both of 'em."

She was an agent with attitude. I liked that. "Got a name?"

"Evil Editor. That's all I have."

"Got a tight deadline there. It'll cost. Two bills."

"You get one. Half now, half when you deliver."

She was a tough negotiator. "Deal." I held out my hand. She slapped a pen in it, then tossed a contract on my desk. Funny thing was, I knew this Evil Editor. Not him personally, but his type. Big shot wanting to pretend he's just some normal working grunt. Scamming his way through life. I must have seen it two, three hundred times in my line of work. Finding him? That was easy. There may be eight million people in the Naked City, but really, how many are brilliant editors?

So I hooked the agent broad and editor up. Now they've got this sweet deal. Some 10-book series about zombie cows and brutal eunuchs. Me? I got a great story idea out of it. Just gotta get it down on paper. Then . . . hell, how hard can it be to write a query letter?


It began like any other manuscript, a divertissement of words and phrases, a Dionysian triptych of archaic discourse veering off into idiom destined to assault the modern and celebrate the old.

"Are you this PI Frank Malone?" EE said, perusing my work.

"Who else?"

"Mary, Queen of Scots." EE's eyes scanned pages faster than a taxi leaving a slum. "There's no ending, no climax, no ejaculatory, meaningless denouement to satisfy the reader."

"I've got sequels," I told him.

"Sequels. Ambitious case, detective, ambitious case." EE looked at me, resplendent in my grubby fedora.

"It's the epic story of a PI struggling with money and marriage, a narrative of a hard, fast and furious life." My trenchcoat flapped like an old oscillating fan. The squalid fragrance of long abandoned manuscripts filled the air.

"Hah! Most people . . . " EE stopped to scan another chapter. " . . . want Paris jailed, Lohan showing snatch, Britney naked. Not sheep farmers becoming pope or self-discovery during the enlightenment. They want sweaty musclemen dying senseless, bloody deaths with swords. They want violence and profanity."

"But this is a razor-fine rendering of contemporary mores with intelligent characters learning about life as good and evil outcomes are visited on subsequent generations." I folded my arms, hardened my gaze, set my feet.

"You brought me autobiographical literary fiction?" EE paused to swallow a mouthful of cold java before continuing. No need to wait for affirmation. "Make your main character a sexually ambivalent midget, introduce some aliens, invent time travel, include a crazed, Cassandra-like prophet and add druggies, prostitutes and car wrecks. Then you might have something." EE dangled the manuscript back like a dead fish. "Shorten by half, Malone. Make it hard-bitten and resubmit. Meanwhile, NEXT CASE!"


I had a temp dame minding the outer office while Chimera was on vacation. She buzzed, me, said there was a client waiting. She showed him in. He reminded me of Ben Franklin. Long gray hair. Pince-nez. Kite. Called himself Evil Editor. Sounded like an alias. "That how you're gonna sign the check?" I asked him. He tossed a wad of bills on my desk. I riffled it. Sounded like twenty G's. He had my attention.

"I've written a book," he said. He had a voice like a man who'd smoked two packs of Camel unfiltered a day for twenty years and then switched to Virginia Slims. "Romantic comedy. Funniest book since the sixth Stephanie Plum mystery."

"I'm listening," I lied.

"I need an agent with a sense of humor. One who'll appreciate my work. I need Miss Snark."


"That's what she goes by. All I can tell you is gin is her beverage of choice, she has a yappy poodle, and she wears Manolos."

"You just described half the women in the 212," I told him.

"I didn't say it was gonna be easy," he said. "Can you find her or not?"

"Depends. Twenty grand don't go far in Manhattan."

He tossed another wad of hundreds onto my desk.

"And an acknowledgement in the book?" I asked.

"Of course."

I reached into my bottom drawer and pulled out the directory and flipped to S. I scanned down until I reached Snark Literary Agency. That was easy, easier than buying a politician in an election year. I circled the number, tore out the page, and handed it to Editor.

"You're kidding," he said. "It's her real name?"

"So it seems."

He grabbed for the forty grand, but I was quicker. He walked out wearing the same scowl he came in with.

Something tells me I won't be getting that acknowledgement.

--Evil Editor

I usually don’t work for mobs. It turns ugly real fast. They walked into my office calling themselves The Minions and gave me a sob story about their missing Evil Editor. With a name like that, I knew right away the guy had to be a flimflam artist. He probably took the run-out after giving them the Chinese squeeze, and now they were looking to dress him in a wooden kimono six feet under. But they had the dough, and I needed it worse than a hood needs a dame after a three spot. So I took the job.

All I had to go on was his name and a picture. But the picture looked like it was drawn by my idiot nephew, and the harlots on 42nd didn't recognize the face. The rats and the stool pigeons weren’t talking either, even after I put the screws on. So I did what I always do on a tough case. I dropped a twenty on Sammy’s bartop and waited till it turned into bourbon. “Tough one, Frank?”

“Maybe.” I slipped Sammy the picture. “Seen this guy around?”

But before he could answer I was jostled by a scarred up skid who smelled like a half-eaten tuna sandwich left to cook on July asphalt. He shoved an empty glass at Sammy and grunted. Then lurched his way toward the back room.

Sammy tapped the picture. “Sure, I seen him, Frank. He’s back there right now. With the skids.”

“This guy? You sure?”

Sammy nodded. “They been here a week straight.”

“I’ll be damned.” I threw another twenty down for Sammy and stood up. There must've been twenty of them packed in the room, and there was Evil Editor, right in the middle, dancing a jig on the table and chugging straight tequila. It had to be him. Those gray muttonchops were unmistakable.

Who woulda figured he liked to party with zombies?


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