Journal Entry: Fri Dec 14, 2012, 2:31 AM
I was startled awake by the sound of the buzzer; the one that signifies that there's someone waiting outside, that they're troubled, that they're willing to pay me. That buzzer means work. Work makes you forget about the ghosts and the demons and the skeletons in the closet. Sour mash does the same.
I'd been having the dream again; that endless, merciless replaying of the night Vera was killed. The buzzer kicked me out of that world like some surly bouncer after a full-scale brawl. As I opened my eyes, bleary and bloodshot, the room burned itself into my retinas. My head weighed not quite as much as a garbage truck, and it nearly took both hands to lift it off my desk. The room swam as I gazed through the haze and the fog at the empty bottle of brandy which stood triumphantly at the corner of my desk like the last man standing after an epic gun battle. I wondered where its companion, the tumbler, must have gone, and decided I wasn't being paid to find out.
The infernal buzzer sounded again, and this time I could feel the vibrations in my eye sockets. I double-timed it; snatching up the bottle and chucking it over my shoulder and out the open window behind me. "Come in," I shouted, as I fumbled with my tie; trying not to look hungover, and feeling as though I couldn't fool a blind man.
The door swung open. Had it swung any harder, I might have bawled like an infant. A pair of legs sauntered in, clad in midnight sheer nylons. I centered my energy and raised my eyes another centimeter or so, and discovered the girl riding atop them. Not a bad dish, really, but I would've had to forget every woman I'd ever known to fall in love with her. Sort of a plain girl, with with conservatively styled chestnut brown hair, yet there was something lascivious about her that shown through the act. She was done up so that one might mistake her cheapness with authority, but it was obvious that those silken legs were likely the only thing that commanded respect, and that she'd gone through great lengths to hide it.
She shut the door behind her and strolled awkwardly to the clients' chair in front of my desk. "Are you Mr. Clayton Raynes?" "Right now, I'm not so sure. Why don't you come back in about thirty minutes, and I'll let you know." She started back for the door. "I'm awfully sorry--"
"I'm Raynes, alright, and this is my office and that's my chair, and why don't you sit in it and tell me what I can do for you."
She sat down as if it hurt her; sort of bending at the knees and easing herself down into the chair. She glared at me, and it almost hurt. "What are you," she asked, "some kind of comedian?" "No, ma'am," I said, "no one's ever laughed, not that I can remember." She pulled a cigarette out of the box in her handbag and lit it from a match. "Are you discreet?" I told her I was, and that that's what "private" meant. She seemed to mull it over, dragging hard on her cigarette, and coughing. "You ought to be more careful with that, it's made for grown-ups." She made a face and hurled the cigarette straight at me. There was a shower of embers as it bounced off my tie and onto my desk. I picked it up and took a drag. "What I meant to say is, how may I help you?" "My brother's missing, and I want my cigarette back."
I took another drag and, when I was sure she could handle it all by herself, I gave it back. "What's his name, what's your name.?" As she began to spill, I took a pen from its holder and began to catch. She said her name was Clara Burnstien, and her brother was Hal, of the same name. "We're from out of state, Mr. Raynes. Hal moved out here ten months ago to find work. He'd been sending money back home with his letters every month." "From what state are you out of?" She told me it was none of my business. I asked why not. "That's what 'private' means, Mr. Raynes." Touché. She said "mother" had been ill, and the medical bills were piling up. Jobs were scarce, so Hal thought he'd try his hand at the city. Then, three months ago, the letters stopped coming. So did the checks. I asked her if she knew where he worked. She said she did not, but gave me his last known home address. "Won't do you no good, though," she said, "land lord says he ain't been around; had to clear out his room." "And the police?" She looked down at something on her lap. "They haven't really been much help." "They're not as a rule. Did he have any friends, see any girls?" She looked up at me again, and for a good, hard second, said nothing. "He has a friend named Scotty." "No last name," I asked. "Just Scotty." There was something behind her eyes, but I couldn't quite get at it. "You got a picture?" She pulled a snapshot out of her handbag and tossed it in front of me. He was all teeth. Smilin' Hal was a pretty-boy, for sure. They didn't look a thing alike.
"Alright, Clara-" "Ms. Burnstien," she interrupted. "Alright, doll, it's one-hundred dollars a day plus expenses, with a two-hundred and fifty dollar retainer. Can you afford that?" She rifled through her purse with all of the dexterity of a bank teller, and came out with five one-hundred dollar bills. "Will this do for now?" She looked at me as if I should feel guilty. "It'll do nicely," I said, pulling a standard client's contract from my desk drawer. "Sign and date this, and we're in business."