A MAN’S NATURE
By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
The familiar wooden door, with its broken mail slot and number ‘13’ slightly off-center, was closed, but the splintered casing told me I was too late. Minutes or hours, it didn’t matter… I was too damn late!
An aching weariness fell over me and for a few moments, I stood there in the hall, unable to move. When I did, it was almost as if in a dream. The air seemed heavy around me, like it had weight to it. It took an effort to shuffle my feet the short distance from the front door to the bedroom. I didn’t want to open that door… I really didn’t. Gun drawn, I noticed a slight tremble to my right hand as I grasped the brass knob, slowly turning it.
The door swung back silently on its oiled hinges. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. The bedclothes were mussed, but no one was in the room.
The maelstrom of thoughts swirling in my head slowed and time seemed to reverse itself…taking me back…
The late afternoon sun, filtering through a lush canopy of sycamores and oaks, cast a glare on the windshield and I almost missed the turn-off. Cranking the steering wheel hard right, the big Packard kicked up a spray of gravel as I turned off the highway and on to the narrow, graveled road leading down to the lakeside cabin. My business partner, in an uncharacteristically generous mood, had lent me the use of his little mountain get-away for a much needed vacation. In return, I’d promised to bring back a nice string of lake trout for him and the missus.
Tom and I run a little private detective agency back in River City, a growing metropolis on the West Coast with more than its share of the down trodden and those who’ve trod on them. For the last eight years, Barlow and Channing – I’m the Channing on the black and silver cards identifying our agency – have done their share of bringing a little balance back to the scales of Lady Justice.
With the Cayman case finally wrapped up and delivered to the authorities, we decided to shutter the agency for a couple of weeks and take a little ‘r and r’. Roderick Cayman had been a nasty piece of work. He had a heavy hand in just about anything you could think of – I’m talking about things you won’t find at Newberry’s or your local Shop ‘N Go, or the Yellow Pages for that matter – and he had ruled his little ‘kingdom’ with an iron fist, sending more than his share to the emergency room at Sisters of Mercy… or worse yet… Forest Lawn. But six weeks on the inside of Cayman’s organization and a few more grey hairs later, we’d brought Cayman down. He and his lieutenants would be cooling their heels up at Green River for the next ten to twenty-five.
Anyway, Tom took the family off to Philly to visit relatives and I packed a few books and my rod and reel… destination, ConvictLake; a little slice of heaven nestled between the peaks of the Sierras, and some of the best fishing this side of the Mississippi. Old man Mayer had bought up thousands of acres up in the mountains years ago and ConvictLake was strictly by invitation. Tom had had the good fortune to marry Louis B’s daughter and as a wedding present to the two of them, the old man had given them the cabin. Lucky bastard!
My girl, Erika, kicked up a bit of a fuss about being left behind, but I soon put things straight with her. Erika’s a great girl and all, but she sometimes forgets that it’s a man’s world and what a man says… a man means. End of story, right? I’ll make it up to her when I get back. An evening of dancing and a nice steak dinner at Morton’s and things will be right as rain. I might even stop by Harry Ritchie’s on the way home and pick up that set of diamond stud earrings Erika was eyeing last month when we were looking at engagement rings. That ought to get me a little extra lovin’; not that my baby needs any encouragement that way. Erika is a very giving person and a simple soul. She may look like VeronicaLake, with a sexy-as-hell Gene Tierney overbite, but ‘high-maintenance’ is not in that girl’s vocabulary. This is good for both of us, seeing as how a gumshoe’s pay isn’t exactly ‘stratospheric’.
I met Erika on a case a couple of years ago. She was in the middle of a messy divorce with almost no money to her name and no friends or family to turn to for help. Erika had been in the country only a short time. Her soon-to-be ex-husband had brought her over from Stockholm and the girl had… well, I won’t get in to all that here. Suffice it to say, her introduction to the American way of life had been less than ideal.
When I first ran into Erika, she was crying in her soup over at Mel’s, a grubby little diner over on 39th with all the charm of walking on broken glass, but some of the best home-made apple pie in six counties. Through her tears and very dainty nose-blowing, I got most of her little tale of woe. It seemed that her shyster lawyer had got the notion in his head that if Erika were to perform certain sexual favors, he would be more than willing to lower his fee… considerably.
I was waiting for the sleazy little bastard when he opened his office the next morning. We had a little ‘talk’, or rather; I talked and he listened, head tilted back and handkerchief pressed to his nose to stop the flow of blood. I’ve found that with certain types, the real cowards; a little bit of trauma really helps focus the mind to what is being told to them. J.R. Pressman, Esq was no exception.
I didn’t have to repeat myself. When Amtrak’s 6:15 for Spokane pulled out of Union station that evening, it had a last minute passenger and RiverCity had one less scumbag working the streets and sullying the town’s reputation.
Three months later, Erika moved in to my place over at the Eliot.
I’d driven about ten of the twelve miles from the main highway to the cabin when the skies suddenly darkened and the heavens opened up. Even through the thick forest of trees, the rain was so heavy I had to slow to a crawl. The wipers on the Super Eight were no match for the torrent coming down.
The steep dirt drive leading down to Tom’s cabin from the gravel road looked more like a river than a road and I slid the last fifty feet, bringing the big sedan to a stop barely two feet from the front porch of the cabin.
It took two trips to get everything from car to cabin and by the time I was finished, there was an inch of water in the trunk of the Packard and my clothes were soaked through to the skin. The first order of business was getting a fire going and changing out of my wet garments.
Twenty minutes later, with a roaring blaze in the big stone fireplace, I was resting comfortably in the well-worn Stickley rocker, with my feet up to the fire. It’d taken a bit of searching, but I located Tom’s stash of Kentucky’s finest and two of the four fingers I had poured were now warming me from the inside.
The rain shows no sign of letting up anytime soon, so it looks like I’ll be eating out of a can tonight. While the fire gets underway in the old Roesch Kohl cook stove, I scour the cupboards. Soon the aroma of beef stew and scratch biscuits fill the cabin. Simple pleasures… that’s all I ask for.
With dinner and dishes done with, I settle back in the old rocker for an after-dinner aperitif… cigar and Jack. I make a mental note to Tom about stocking some decent brandy.
Between the whiskey and a full belly, I started to drift off, my thoughts turning to fishing the next day, when the harsh jangle of the telephone pulls me back to the present. I debate about just letting it ring, but it might be Tom… something might have come up, so I drag myself over to where the phone hangs on the wall, next to the battered Kelvinator.
I hear several clicks, then a garbled voice.
“Hello? Is someone there?”
Nothing… a little static… then… a voice… not Tom’s though… rough… menacing.
“So… it’s on then?” What the hell?
“Yeah… it’s on. Boss wants the girl whacked tonight.”
“Who is this? What’s going on?” My voice ‘bounces’ back… I realize that they can’t hear me. Somehow, the phone lines have crossed… the rain probably shorted something.
“Why’s the boss got it so ‘hard’ for this girl… what’s she to him?”
“She ain’t nothin’ to the boss… ‘cept, her boyfriend’s the one got him sent up.”
“Oh… right… that damn gumshoe!”
A sudden feeling of dread… it can’t be… no…
“Yeah… right. And what RC wants…”
“Tell him it’s good as done… by morning.”
I don’t wait to hear more.
I’m halfway to the door, coat and keys in hand, when I stop. There’s no way the Packard is going to make it up the mud-slogged drive to the gravel road leading back to the highway. Damn! Twelve miles of walking in the cold and wet… it’ll take me hours… then I remember! Grabbing a flashlight, I dash out the door and around the side of the cabin to the lean-to… hoping the bike is still there.
The rain has let up and a hunter’s moon is peeking from the clouds, casting its glow on the ’49 Indian Super Scout when I pull the tarpaulin aside. A quick inspection of the gas tank and tires; then I fire up the 500cc engine, grab a helmet off the wall peg and wheel the bike out to the driveway.
With its yellowed headlight illuminating the highway, the Scout’s dual exhaust rumbles in the still night air as its white-walled tires eat up the miles; the speedometer hovering between 60 and 65 as I lean the bike into another curve. The road straightens up and I twist the throttle hard, shooting back up to 80 mph.
I’m not a praying man, but now seems as good a time as any to start.
I pray I make it in time.
I pray I’m wrong.
~ finis ~
© 2012 – Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw. All Rights Reserved.