Exclusive extract from the new noir The Case of the Missing Wife.
Copyright © 2018 Victoria Wallin
Available to pre-order from links below for just $0.99.
New York City, 1942. Martin Harrington is a derelict P.I. whose wife recently left him. He spends his days at the office drinking booze that he hides in a drawer in his desk and fondly argues with his secretary Lucy, on the days that he actually shows up.
Lucy and Martin were in the middle of bickering over some trivial nonsense when a new potential client showed up at the door, a middle-aged man with his hat in hand. He looked around, a bit confused, at the empty reception desk and heard voices in the room behind it and decided to follow the sound. He hesitantly entered the open door to the room behind the reception desk.
”Ehr, hello. I need your help. It’s about my wife,” the man said and nervously turned his hat in his hands in front of him. ”She’s missing,” he said and looked helplessly at Martin. Martin looked at the man with contempt behind his desk.
”Good for you,” Martin quipped.
”Excuse me?” the man said, confused, and glanced at Lucy who stood next to the desk.
”He didn’t mean that,” Lucy said quickly.
”It’s probably for the best,” Martin continued, and received a look of warning from Lucy.
”He has a weird sense of humor, please ignore him,” Lucy said between her teeth.
”Trust me, I’ve been there,” Martin went on.
”He thinks he’s being funny,” Lucy tried to explain.
”Eh, perhaps I should come back later?” the man suggested in total confusion.
”No,” Martin said.
”Yes,” Lucy said simultaneously. Lucy was boiling with anger and glared at Martin who lit a cigarette. The man looked at them both, not knowing what to do. ”Come with me, I can take your information at my desk over here,” Lucy suggested in an attempt of taking control of the situation and gestured towards the reception desk outside Martin’s office, which was starting to fill up with smoke from his cigarette.
”Oh, OK,” the man said with a sense of relief and followed her out of the office. Lucy closed the door behind them with force so that the tinted glass in the top part of the door rattled after giving Martin a murderous look. Martin replied with a crooked smile and put his feet up on his desk.
Lucy took a seat at her desk, brought out her notepad and a pen and gave the man what she hoped was a trusting and confiding smile.
”Tell me everything,” she said invitingly.
Martin studied the somewhat shiny shoes on his feet on his crossed ankles on the desk. They could use a shine again he noted. He might be a bit of a lush but he always tended to detail. The details were always important. That’s what he made a living out of. Regular people often missed the detail, that’s why they came to him for help.
He wasn’t worried about Lucy, he was sure she got the information he needed from the man, she always did. She was good with people. He was not. Right now he was grateful that she probably put together a new case for him out there. If he decided to take it. He wasn’t in the mood to be understanding and ask questions about a dame that had taken off. He didn’t feel like trying to find her either. If a broad had left you the best thing was to let her go, he had meant what he’d said. He took a deep inhale from his cigarette.
His own wife had left him two months ago. It hadn’t been the first time she’d got sick of his drinking and late hours at the office, or his modest income – though she’d never said anything about that out loud – and left him. This time she’d told him she was leaving for good, and he believed her. He wished he’d had more to offer her. But he wondered if anything was ever enough.
Martin had been lucky enough to inherit the office, which had previously been a hardware store, with the tiny apartment upstairs, from his father. He had had no aspirations of becoming a salesman, he had lived long and well off the money he’d got from selling his parents’ old house after his mother had passed away a few months after his father.
The P.I. job had been purely coincidental. An old classmate had contacted him and asked him for advice. Claire Bowman had wanted to find out if her husband Ben was having an affair, the two of them had been together since high school, the same school that Martin had gone to so he knew them both. Martin had offered to take her husband out to dinner and see what he could find out and Claire had insisted on paying for it, desperate for information. Ben Bowman had not been as frank as Martin had hoped for, so he had decided to follow him around for a few days and thus he had found out that Ben was having an affair with the neighbor’s wife. Claire had been so grateful that she’d wanted to pay him more for his efforts, which he had turned down. A few days later her friend had contacted him with the same problem. That’s how it all got started.
The door with the black letters Harrington’ s Private Investigations written on the glass rattled again as Lucy opened it and walked towards him with determined steps. A vague smile lured at the corner of his mouth as he watched her approach him. Her strawberry blonde hair lay softly curled down to the shoulders of her burgundy knee-length dress which revealed a flattering hourglass figure. She handed him a note.
”Here’s your new case. You’re very welcome,” she spat out with a proud twitch of the neck. He took the note without looking at it.
”I guarantee you she left with his best friend,” Martin said, bored, and inhaled deeply on his cigarette. Lucy placed both hands on her hips.
”Sandra Covington, thirty-two years old, disappeared without a trace yesterday after she’d gone shopping, without bringing any of her clothes or other personal belongings,” Lucy told him.
“Maybe she bought everything new,” Martin suggested slowly and hit the cigarette on the rim of the ashtray so the ash fell off into it on his desk.
“Her husband Sam, who was here, is a bit of a gambler, and he thinks she’s been kidnapped by a gangster he owes money,” Lucy continued. Martin looked at her freckled face, perfect black eyeliner and red lips.
“Gangster?” he said amused.
“His word, not mine,” she said quickly and tilted her head at him. “Take the case, Martin, or you’ll end up as a shoe shiner,” she added and nodded towards his shoes on the desk.
“Let me take you out to dinner tonight,” Martin threw out in spontaneity, took his feet down from the desk and sat up properly on his chair.
”Nope, I have a date tonight,” Lucy said, pleased as punch.
”Cancel it. Come on, it’ll be fun,” Martin pleaded with her.
”Go on, get to work,” Lucy said and ignored the rest, turned her heal and walked out of his office. Martin watched her walk out and gave her legs an appreciative glance. She closed the door with a rattling noise. Lucy had worked for him for two years now, he didn’t know how she put up with him, but he knew that he would never make it without her. She was an accomplished secretary with a good head on her shoulders, and she was great with people, which he wasn’t. Martin had tried every type of work you could think of and he had either got fired or quit it himself, usually because of his lack of respect for people, mainly authorities. He had even applied to the Police Academy, but dropped out of that too after about a year. He just couldn’t cope with having to take orders from other people. People were idiots.
He sighed and looked at the note. Lucy was right, of course, he needed this assignment – the money, as well as having something to do. He read the names on the note, the husband’s and the wife’s. There was also an address and a phone number to the married couple, and a short description of the wife. And then a small note on the gangster,”Mickey the mauler”. He’d never heard of him.
Martin lit another cigarette with a matchbook he’d got in a bar and did some thinking. Why didn’t Sam Covington go to the cops if he’d thought his wife had been kidnapped? Something didn’t add up. And that sparked an interest with Martin. He slowly blew out smoke rings in the air and watched them dissolve. He was also curious about this gangster, Mickey the mauler. He would first of all have to find out if it was in fact a real person, or if the client tried to take him for a ride. If he’d learned anything in this business it was that everybody lied, all the time, about everything.
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