The Picture Ranch 21
Back in the Encino Store, I was staring at the clock behind Henry's off-white forage cap. The coffee in front of me was cold. My office was a burned out shell. I had scrawled on a fly-posted Made in America Club bill on the outside of the Polack Pornographer's window:
“Fisher P.I. - The Encino Store, Call Encino 355.”
I hadn't had a client call or leave a note since I got mixed up with Eleanor Gräfenberg. Still, I had $20 a month Veteran's pension as long as no-one caught me earning more than a $75 a month as a gumshoe. I hadn't earned more than fifty simoleons in three. I owed rent, utilities and too much to a good friend. If my life had been Parker Bros. dumb board game, I'd have gone to jail three snake-eyes ago.
My notebook was on the counter, open at a blank page. The little puddle of coffee was leaching into pages flipped over just so I could stare at the lines and feint margin and wish I was still in the USMC.
The pay-phone over by the door rang. Henry lifted one shoulder and carried on polishing an ice-cream scoop that he hadn't used all day.
'Prolly fer yew, anyhow. I heard ya lef' a note over whur yer office useta be.'
The old man hooted like a Barbary Macaque, so I went over and picked up the receiver.
'That you, Fisher?'
I couldn't place the voice but I said it was, anyhow. I moved aside to let a newcomer into the store.
'Got someone wantsa talk to ya.'
The voice was husky, strained, like its owner had sung too much or screamed too loud.
'Do what they say. My brother's…'
The guy came back on, ' Bin tole yer sweet on this lady. Be a pity if ya didn't see her again, huh?'
'What do you want?'
But the line was dead and the man standing behind me answered,
'The deeds, Mr Fisher, the deeds.'
Naturally, it was Boethius.
‘Where are they?’
He smiled. His teeth were as small as a child’s milk teeth and whiter than a nun’s bedsheets.
‘Safe, safe as houses,’ I said.
His lips closed and his smile became a thin, flat line. A finger of his gloved hand poked my chest.
‘Of course, houses can burn, just like offices, can’t they?’
‘I’d like to see the deeds. They weren’t in the office. I looked.’
They were in the trunk of my car, but I didn’t feel like telling him that.
He poked me in the chest again. I didn't like it any more this time.
'I want to see them.'
‘They’re real safe too. Safer than houses, in fact.’
Boethius pulled his gloves tight and balled his hands into fists. Then he opened the gloved hands again, because the pain in his crotch had grabbed the whole of his attention. It hurt my knee, but it was worth it. Then I frog-marched him out to my car. His eyes widened when I popped the trunk, hauled out a grip and bundled him in. His eyes were wider still as I closed the trunk and locked it with the key. On checking the bag, I saw that the paper packet was still under two pistols and a bottle of rum wrapped in a towel. I threw the whole kaboodle on the passenger seat and drove the car out of town.