Sunday, August 17, 2008

Creatively Created Creative Writing - Chapter XI

It had been a busy few days for me. After the funeral and somewhat eventful wake for Dirk Easley, there was the reading of the will. I was quite surprised to find that not only was Dirk's estate much more extensive than I had ever thought, but that he had left the bulk of it to me. This fact did not please the Cousins Avaricious, as I now thought of the trio that had showed up at the wake and caused such a ruckus. In fact, they were now threatening to challenge the will in court. So the only access I had to my new-found wealth was the 1949 Plymouth Woody - which, truth be told, was the best part.

I had never been a materialistic person, and the idea of owning masterwork paintings and other artwork, not to mention all the rest, was a bit daunting. Well, I didn't really have a problem with the house on Beech Mountain - not that I would ever go skiing. But the pictures showed a nice house with an absolutely wonderful view, and I looked forward to going up and seeing it... assuming the court case went my way, that was.

The reading had been on Tuesday in Charlotte. I caught the bus down the mountain and sat through all the yelling from the Cousins Avaricious, and after it was over - and they had sneered at the Plymouth - the lawyer handed me the keys. I walked the five blocks to the garage where the car had been stored, signed the paperwork, and got in. I turned the key and the engine purred to life, the solid old motor sounding brand new.

As I sat there, listening to the engine idle, I noticed a button on the dash that didn't look original. It wasn't labeled, so I pushed it to see what it did.

"Do not attempt to defeat this safety feature," blared a voice from the radio speakers. I waited nervously for a moment to see what would else might happen, and when nothing did, I put the car in gear and drove it out of the garage and toward the highway. I had gone less than a block when I saw Jimmy, the bartender at the Five Spot, standing at a bus stop.

I pulled over to the curb, rolled the window down, and said, "Hey, Jimmy. What are you doing here? You need a lift?"

"Guy! Where'd you get that sweet ride?" the young man asked, coming over to the car.

"It was Dirk's, and he left it to me in his will," I replied, gesturing for him to get in. "What brings you to Charlotte?"

"Wow! It looks brand new!!" the exuberant bartender exclaimed as I pulled away from the curb. "Oh, I came down to visit my Aunt Sofia. She lives in the Panther Den Rest Home over by the Stadium. Thanks for saving me bus fare back up the mountain."

"No problem, kid. I'm heading back that way anyway."

As I drove, the feel and sound of the old car took my thoughts back in time to when I was just starting out in the Private Investigator business.

"Did I ever tell you about working for old Snappy Lefkowitz?" I asked Jimmy as we tooled down the highway.

"No, Guy, you haven't," Jimmy answered.

"I had been out of high school for a couple of years, and was still trying to find my place in the world. My Granpa had been a police detective and I had always thought that was a cool job, but being a cop held no interest for me. So I drifted from part-time job to part-time job, unhappy with them and hanging out on the streets more than I should, until one day in August my Granpa came by my place.

"'Come get in the car,' he said to me. Now Granpa was not someone to be disobeyed. Before he became a policeman, he spent five years working in the steel mills up north. As the saying goes, his muscles had muscles, and growing older hadn't diminished him at all.

"Anyway, I dutifully followed him to his car, which was very much like this one, and he drove us across town to the old Jackson Building. We went up to the 8th floor and to the office of one of his old buddies, Jerome "Snappy" Lefkowitz. Snappy was like those detectives you read stories about. Crisp linen suit, freshly blocked fedora, trenchcoat.. .the whole deal.

"Granpa walked into the office like he owned the place, and said to Snappy, "This is my grandson. Teach him everything you know." And then he walked back out the door."

Jimmy's eyes were huge as he looked at me and said, "He just left you there? Without asking you?"

"Those were different times, and Granpa was a different kind of man," I replied as I wheeled the Woody onto the interstate. I settled back in my seat, keeping one eye on the road and one on the speedometer as we sped down the road.

"So what happened then?" Jimmy asked.

"Well, Snappy looked at me, all gangly arms and legs - remember, I was only 20," I said as Jimmy looked at my ... no longer slender form, "and said, 'First thing is, you need a suit. C'mon.' He stood up, put on his hat and coat, and took me to the tailor.

"For the next year and a half I worked hard as Snappy's errand boy/assistant, learning all the basics - and many of the tricks - of the Private Investigator biz. We sat stakeout for days at a time, waiting to catch the philandering husband in the act. We tracked down the daughter that ran away from home to become an actress. We found the missing family jewels. All kinds of things.

"I asked endless questions, and Snappy never failed to answer directly... except for the one time when I said, 'Why do you wear gloves when you're loading the guns?' 'Oh, you know - just in case,' he answered curtly. I didn't figure out the real reason for several years, but that's another story for another time.

Sadness crept into my voice as I continued, "It all came to an end at the Jackson Building Christmas Party in 1978. Most of the offices in the building were one or two-person businesses, and so the whole building got together to have an annual party. Old Doc Hawkins, the dentist, dressed as Santa and chased all the secretaries around, there was spiced wine and strong eggnog, and everybody participated in the secret Santa.

"I was young and stupid at the time. As such, it never occurred to me that giving unrefrigerated olive loaf as a secret Santa present at work might have unforeseen consequences."

My stomach rumbled and I remembered I hadn't eaten since breakfast - and that was two cups of coffee and some dry toast. I felt giddy with the promised wealth, so I said something I'd never said to another man before, "Let me buy you some dinner, Jimmy."

"Gee, Guy, are you sure?" Jimmy said with no small amount of astonishment. This was a man who had seen me nurse a gin and tonic for three hours, just so I wouldn't have to buy the next round.

"Maybe it's the spirit of Dirk, but I feel like splurging a bit. Let's have some seafood," I replied as I saw the sign at the exit. I turned down the exit ramp,took a right at the light, and pulled into the Wharfed Mind Restaurant. We walked in and were seated at a table by the window.

"Order anything you like, Jimmy," I said as I looked the menu over. Jimmy was scratching his nose as the waitress arrived to take our order. His hand stopped suddenly and a look of concentration crept across his face. He glanced at her to see if she was watching, she wasn't, of course, so he went ahead and picked his nose. I chose the Calabash shrimp and Jimmy ordered clam chowder and a salad.

"So, what happened with the olive loaf, Guy?" he asked after the waitress had brought us our drinks.

"Hmm? Oh, that," I replied. "Well, the Christmas tree in the lobby was right next to one of those big old radiators. So when Mrs. Rimble, who was Doc Hawkins' receptionist and whose name I had drawn, opened the package, it ... well, it sort of exploded as she tore off the wrapping paper, and the most horrible smell filled the room. Judge Henderson, who had the whole top floor for his offices and who oversaw the Christmas party, was furious.

"'Who in the hell chose that as a gift!' he thundered. All of the partygoers shrank back from him - and away from the offensive smell emanating from Mrs. Rimble's lap. None of them had ever seen a full-blown conniption before and were quite unprepared for the mess. When no one answered - I was too terrified to say anything - he strode around the room, glaring at each person in turn, grabbing all the other presents and flinging them across the room.

"The longer he waited for someone to speak up, the angrier he got. Poinsettias went flying, and the other decorations that had been put up for the party fell to his wrath. As he finally approached me I was quaking in my patent leather shoes, certain that the guilt was clear on my face. Snappy must have seen it too, cause he stepped in front of the Judge, and whispered something in his ear."

By this time our food had arrived, and I ate while I continued my story. "Whatever he said to Judge Henderson deflated the anger like a tire runing over a nail. The Judge cast his glare once more around the room, then stomped to his private elevator, glancing back over his shoulder at Snappy, who stood there calmy, arms crossed.

"As soon as the elevator doors closed behind the Judge, the whole crowd bolted for the doors, to get some fresh air. I started moving that way, too, but Snappy's arm shot out and blocked my way. 'Let's go up on the roof,' he said, and grabbed my elbow. We took the other elevator up, then climbed the stairs to the roof.

"The stars were dim, blocked by the glare radiating from hundreds of empty parking lots. We stood there for a minute in silence, then Snappy turned to me and asked, 'Why didn't you own up to it?' I stammered and stuttered, giving excuse after excuse. It was kind of like painting one's self into a corner. Finally, I admitted that I had no good reason, other than I honestly feared for my life, the Judge's rage was so severe.

"Snappy was silent for a few moments, then said quietly, 'As of the new year, the office is yours. I've taught you all you need to know, and it's time for me to be moving on. Especially since I played a trump card tonight I'd been holding for years.' He looked me up and down, and then said 'I think it was worth it, though. You'll be a good PI, son.'

"He started to walk back to the stairs. I was stunned that he was turning over his business to me, but recovered just in time to shout, 'What did you say to the Judge?' before he went through the door.

"Snappy smiled as he replied, 'Oh, just a couple of things I overheard the Judge say to the preacher's wife several years ago.... There's nothing like the smell of sex in the morning. and,'..." I paused, noticing that Jimmy was turning an incredibly unhealthy looking shade of green. "Are you all right, Jimmy?"

"Boy, that chowder wasn't any good," he said, and jumped up and ran to the bathroom.

It was nearly an hour later - and after much apologizing by the manager of the restaurant, and a $20 gift certificate, which I tossed in the trash as we walked out the door - that we got back in the Woody and headed toward the city in the mountains, Jimmy laid out in the back seat, still not quite over his bout.

I'd been driving for 15 minutes when Jimmy suddenly said, "Uh oh!" and I heard the distinct sounds of vomiting. "I'm sorry, Guy. I threw up on your books."

"Books?" I asked, pulling over to the side of the highway. I opened the back hatch of the Woody and there were several boxes of books there, partially covered by an old ratty blanket. Some vintage erotica, hand written diaries and what appeared to be a complete set of German-Hungarian/Hungarian-German dictionaries. It was hard to tell, though, because not only do I not speak German or Hungarian, but they were covered with ... well. They were unseemly. It was the first time in my life (as best I could remember) that I had thrown away books, but volumes H through Q were left by the side of the road.

I got back in the car and pulled onto the road as Jimmy piped up weakly to ask, "What was the other thing Snappy overheard the Judge say?"

"Heh. He said, '"Muskrat" was never meant to be a verb.'"

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