This last week I entered a short story contest my local library is hosting with the prompt of “It was a dark and stormy night…”. I entered with a short story I have had in the works. It was actually a real novel I was attempting, however, after a year of playing around with it, it has gone nowhere. I tweaked the ending a bit and the result is a story that I think has potential for something later on. Enjoy below.
The Making of a Private Eye by Katie Lyn Branson
It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed, shaking the old brick building where my offices were housed. I was at my desk reading information about a client whose daughter was missing. Most private investigation consists of reading about people.
I reached for the stale cup of coffee staring at me, ready to drink it, then decided it wasn’t worth the caffeine fix. I hated cold coffee. I was just about to ask Billie Jean, my secretary, to flip on the heat under the leftover pot on the stove in the small kitchenette, when the outer office door slammed open. I heard Billie greet the person. I leaned sideways to look through the open door of my office.
Of all the offices in the city, he had to walk into mine. His fedora dripped water all over my Indian carpet and rivulets streaked down his drenched gray raincoat. Just what I needed. Someone else ruining my rug. I had just had it cleaned, and here was someone else messing it up all over again.
“Can I help you sir?” Billie asked with her Brooklyn twang. She smacked her gum and I winced at the sound. I’d been on her case for months about the gum chewing habit, but still no luck. I figured it was a lost cause with Billie Jean.
“I’d like to see Mr. Swiftfoot, please.” His voice was as smooth as a glass of aged bourbon. Not that I ever drank any.
“Yah mean, Miss Swiftfoot, don’t cha?” Billie smacked her gum again.
“No, I mean Mr. Swiftfoot Private Investigator.” The man’s voice was tinged with annoyance. “Hold on one minute, sir.” Billie buzzed the office connection even though the door was open. “Boss, someone here to see you. You want me to send him in?”
“Yes, Billie, send him in.” I used my gruffest voice for the pure fun of seeing the man’s reaction.
Just as he stepped through the door I closed my lipstick tube and smacked my lips to set the color.
“Pardon me, miss, but I’d like to see your boss, Mr. Swiftfoot.” I looked up slowly, and almost dropped my jaw. He was tall and thin, but I wasn’t able to see his face well due to the shadow his hat created.
“I’m sorry, Mr., …..” I trailed off in question.
“Black. Andrew Black.” He answered and removed his hat. His hair was a glossy black, with a bit of a wave falling over his right eye. His eyes, were a soft gray. Little crinkles nestled in the corners of his eyes. His nose was thin and narrow and his mouth was thin as well, a sardonic quirk to it. He wasn’t handsome in the normal way but the quality of his bearing was appealing.
“Well, Mr. Black, I’m afraid there’s been some mistake. I’m Grace Swiftfoot, Private Investigator. I run this business.”
“You! How’s it possible a woman’s running a private investigation? It’s a man’s business.” Mr. Black growled the accusation.
“Well, Mr. Black, I beg to differ, but if you have a problem with a woman investigating something, Cheshire and Burke is just down the street. You can go drip water all over their carpets. However, since you’re here, I’m betting they turned you down, because most of the time, I’m considered a last resort. Fortunately, I have an almost perfect record in finding whatever you need found.” I sat back down in my chair and crossed my arms waiting for him to speak.
It didn’t take long. He sighed, tapped his hat against his thigh and then sat down in the chair across from my desk.
“Well, you’re right, Miss Swiftfoot. Cheshire and Burke did turn me down. I need help finding someone.”
“Of course,” I replied.
Jessica stopped reading and looked at her friend, Hank, who sat across from her at Rosie’s Diner drinking a cup of coffee.
“Well?” Hank asked, waving his hand for Jessica to continue reading.
“That’s it. I don’t have any more,” she said. She toyed with the spoon resting on the napkin and made damp marks with the coffee that remained in the spoon.
“You don’t have any more? But you had me hooked. What happens to this Black character? You can’t leave me hanging like that.”
“I’m sorry, Hank, but I haven’t been able to write anymore.” Jessica sighed. She’d been trying to work on this story for several days now. She’d woken on Tuesday morning after an incredible dream about this Andrew Black character. She could still see his gray eyes in her mind.
Marilyn came by with the coffee pot. “Do you need a refill?” she asked Jessica.
“Thanks Mare. Yes.” Jessica pushed her cup over.
“So whatcha working on?” she asked with her Brooklyn accent, smacking her gum in the process. Jessica glanced over at Hank who was attempting to not laugh. Obviously Jessica had used Marilyn as a model for Billie Jean.
“Nothing much. A story I had an idea for.”
“It’s not another private eye novel, is it?” Marilyn asked.
Jessica turned a bright shade of pink. She’d been trying to write detective stories for ages, and apparently news had gotten out.
“Um, yes, I am,” Jessica replied.
“Can I see this one?”
Jessica looked at Marilyn in surprise. Usually no one asked to see her work. She pushed the page over to Marilyn who snatched it up and scanned the page while she smacked her gum. When she finished she looked over the page at Jessica.
“Not bad. I like this Billie Jean character.”
Hank smothered a laugh and Jessica kicked him under the table.
“This Andrew Black guy sounds like a real piece of work. I’m not sure you can trust him.”
“And why is that?” Jessica asked with a brow arched.
“Well, you can’t trust any man who doesn’t care where water is dripping. Plus, it’s obvious he doesn’t like women.” Marilyn tapped the page against her chin for a moment. “Yah know, he sounds real familiar like. I swear he’s just like the guy who comes in every morning for breakfast.”
Jessica stared at Marilyn.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, every morning there’s this guy that comes in, orders the exact same thing, and he looks just like what you wrote. He isn’t handsome, really, but he has these gray eyes that are really intense. Kinda like they’re looking through you. He gives me the willies, but he tips real well.”
Hank snorted. “What’s with you women and eyes. And so long as he tips well, you’re okay with it?”
Marilyn ignored him. “Hey, maybe you should stop by tomorrow morning around seven. You can see for yourself.” She handed back the paper and sauntered off to clean the counter.
“So are you gonna?” Hank asked.
Jessica thought for a bit, tapping the page on the table. “I don’t know, but it wouldn’t hurt to see. I mean, if anything, it might help me write more of this story.”
Hank shook his head resignedly. “You’re crazy,” he muttered into his coffee.
Jessica swatted at his head but missed when he ducked. “Hey, you wanted to know what happened. Now we can find out.” Jessica smiled to herself. There was no way she’d pass up an opportunity like this. Even if the man wasn’t like the guy in her book, there was a bit of mystery to be had. And a private eye story would starve without mystery.
“Hey, if it helps, the guy came in the other day after it rained and he was dripping water everywhere,” Marilyn hollered from the cash register. “Oh, and Rosie just told me he was looking for somebody.”
Jessica turned to Hank, wide-eyed who was staring at her. Now she had to come in and check this out.
So, there you have it. I welcome any comments, but I mostly hope you enjoy.