The clock on the wall struck 3:00 with three near-deafening chimes in the silent room, and I jumped so badly that I almost fell out of my worn chair. I glared at the clock as I readjusted myself on the seat. It had been a slow day. Hell, it had been a slow month. Rent was coming up soon, and there hadn’t been a case in weeks. I had enough saved up to last me a month, if I had to, but food would end up being a luxury I couldn’t afford if it came to that.
I looked around my tiny office with a grimace. It’s a small room, just large enough to sit a desk, a table with a coffee pot and stove top, and a couple of chairs. The wallpaper, an ugly floral thing, faded with time, hung down limply in places. A leftover from the last tenants that I always told myself I’d tear down. Cupboards hung over the table holding paper plates and plastic cups, along with the only pan I own. Boxes of food are stacked haphazardly under the table and a small icebox, open and filled with melted water, sat in the corner. A single shelf lined with a dozen paperback novels, their covers so worn from use that no one could guess their contents, sat on the wall to my right, just above a large pegboard that contained a map of the city. Reward notices and wanted posters were tacked in no particular order around the edges of the map. The only door in the place sat directly in front of me, its glass panes so dirty from the constant dust of the city that it had the appearance of being a wooden door instead of glass. Barely visible through the grime were the words, “Jake Malone: P.I.”, written backwards from my current point of view.
My desk is made from a single slab of old redwood. Its finish, once bright, glossy, and cheerful, is now dark and pitted with random scrapes and scratches. The two metal file cabinets it sits on are older than I am and are covered in rust. The desk itself is littered with random papers. Overdue bills, thank you cards, old newspapers, and random advertisements for new and exciting products I either don’t need or can’t afford.
A small fan sits in the window, its blades spinning hastily in an attempt to keep up with the heat of the midsummer afternoon. I’m not sure if the ceiling fan was helping or hindering the little window fan. I glanced down at the newspaper in front of me. It was today’s, June 16th. The Metropolitan Gazette is the city’s biggest informant. Anything and everything that happened yesterday could be found here. Anything, that is, except an article written by my little brother Jimmy. He’d just started there a few weeks ago and had called me at two in the morning last night to tell me his article was getting published. He never did keep very good track of time. He’s going to be crushed that the paper cut him out of it.
Suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and a shiver went down my spine, as if a cold winter wind had suddenly forced itself down my back. I folded up the newspaper and casually reached down to open the file cabinet on my right just enough that the handle of my old revolver was within easy reach. Some call it a sixth sense, while others, like my father’s old friend Professor Rafkin, insist that my mind is simply picking up on several subtle shifts in the physical world around me. As for myself, I don’t care what the reason is. The fact remains that I always know when someone is within thirty feet or so of me, even if there are walls in the way. And right now there was someone approaching my door through the long hallway.
A silhouette appeared in the window of my door, where it paused for a few seconds. Probably trying to determine if they really wanted to come in. The handle turned slowly, and a goddess walked through the door as it opened. She was tall, just under six foot, and she was nothing but soft lines and sharp curves. Her hair, straight, and down beyond her shoulder blades, and her skin tight dress that only fell to mid-thigh and was held on by spaghetti straps, were the same color of midnight black. Her hands and forearms were covered by perfectly white elbow length gloves, and she wore white high heels to match. She held a small purse in her hand and studied me with light blue eyes behind long lashes, her ruby lips pursed in contemplation. “Are you the private investigator Jake Malone?” She asked me in a husky, slightly accented voice.
“That’s what it says on the door.” I told her, forcing a bored tone to my voice.
She hummed to herself in contemplative thought before closing the door behind her. “My name is Grace Redding.” She told me.
‘No it isn’t.’ I thought to myself. But people didn’t like to tell investigators their names, and I saw no reason to chase away my first customer in weeks just because I didn’t get her real name.
“I need you to find something for me.” She continued in no uncertain terms as she sat down on the edge of the chair across from me. She crossed her legs slowly and set her purse on her lap.
“That’s one of the things I do.” I told her, reaching past my gun to pull out a pad of paper and pencil. “But I should warn you, I don’t come cheap. I charge twenty dollars an hour that I’m working on your case, plus expenses.”
“Money is no issue.” She told me in a bored tone. “Your peers, who recommended you, already informed me of your prices.”
‘Ah ha.’ I thought. ‘You’ve already tried other investigators who refused to take your case, and now I’m your last resort.’ I jotted down some notes on the pad of paper in an unreadable runic script, a habit my brother and I picked up as children that neither one of us grew out of. “And what is it that you need me to find?” I asked as I finished my notes.
“Have you heard of the Moonstone?” She asked, her voice taking on an almost reverent tone.
“I can’t say that I have.” I told her honestly. “Can you describe it to me?”
“Of course.” She replied, leaning towards me just slightly enough to show a dip in her dress. I couldn’t help but feel like she was manipulating me somehow. “It is a small black stone, about the size of a baby’s fist, and perfectly spherical.” She held her hands up in a small circle about an inch and a half wide to emphasize the point. “It is so black, in fact, that they say light cannot escape it, which creates a small black aura around it. It is said to have special healing properties that my…” She hesitated for a second, “friend, needs very badly. They are very sick and the doctors have all told them that there is nothing medicine can do to help.” She looked deeply into my eyes, her face pleading.
‘Oh yeah, definitely manipulating me.’ I realized. I tried for a stern look and replied, “Look, I’m sorry for your friend, but I’m not going to be able to help you if I need to do anything illegal, like steal it from…”
“No, no, no!” She laughed, interrupting me and throwing back her head to reveal more pale skin around her neck and upper chest. “Nothing like that. It is lost, that is all. And all I need you to do is find it.”
‘Hell.’ I thought as I studied her. ‘Medicine has failed her friend, and now she’s just reaching for a miracle.’ I could relate. My father had died fifteen years ago in the rainforest, and no one ever knew how.
I sat there in silence, staring at her while I thought things through, when suddenly she uncrossed her legs and bent over to open her purse, briefly revealing a tiny triangle of red panties and an ample amount of cleavage. When she sat back up she had an envelope in her hand. “A thousand dollars up front.” She said, holding out the envelope to me, “As well as my contact information.” She looked me in the eye again, drawing my gaze up from the envelope. “And I’ll double your fee. You don’t have to believe in the Moonstone, Mr. Malone, you just have to find it. My friend’s life may depend on it.”
Oh yeah. She was a professional.
She had money.
And I was a fool.
I took the envelope.