“The building had a gothic feel to it. The windows had black soot stains from years of enduring rain and neglect. The whole place was a dreary sight, not to say that all gothic buildings were dreary. In my book, gothic buildings were the best types of buildings, compared to the square ones that looked like a four-year-old’s Lego experiment.”
The building had a gothic feel to it. The windows had black soot stains from years of enduring rain and neglect. The whole place was a dreary sight, not to say that all gothic buildings were dreary. In my book, gothic buildings were the best types of buildings, compared to the square ones that looked like a four-year-old’s Lego experiment. I observed this from my car, of course. The rain poured down in sheets outside, and folks rushed from awning to awning, attempting to get to their small offices in buildings similar to the one I would soon enter. I checked my watch, 8:22 A.M., and sighed begrudgingly. It was just about time. Opening the car door and walking across the street, similar to the folks I had mentioned before. I now had a chance to see if the interior was just as inferior as the exterior. It was.
A secretary sat at a small desk with her ear pressed to a flip phone, the type of over-the-counter phone that drug dealers use. I guess these types of people couldn’t afford nice gadgets, like iPhones that recognize your fingerprints. She talked with a New Jersey accent and looked like she was straight from the eighties with puffy, curly blonde hair and bright blue eye shadow. In short, she looked like a washed-up celebrity.
The rest of the lobby was like her: outdated. A grandfather clock stood in the corner, the hands not moving. The retro waiting chairs were an off-color yellow with flowers embroidered in them, and the coffee table was covered in white chipping paint. Overall, it felt like your grandma’s living room. Cheery.
“No, I already told you I can’t do that for you, Mikey!” the secretary’s voice whined. “It’s above my pay grade!” This was spoken with a sharper tone than before, and without hesitation, the woman slammed the phone shut and placed it on her desk, robotically, shutting her eyes like a jaded schoolteacher.
“Cheery place you got here.”
“You think so?” she asked.
“Sure. If you like nursing homes.” She rolled her eyes.
“Do you happen to know something of an Arlo White?” I said, taking out my cigarette pack and plucking one out of its tightly packed box.
“Can’t you see this is a bad time to run your mouth?” she asked.
“It’s always a bad time to run your mouth.” I flipped my lighter open and the tobacco blazed.
“You can’t smoke in here,”she said. Slowly, I lifted my eyes so that I was looking at her from under the brim of my peach-colored fedora and snapped the lighter closed.
“This is the 21st century, you know, the only folks who light up nowadays are shady bums,” she said.
“Is that so?” I asked.
She pursed her lips together and glared at me with hatred that I wouldn’t think you’d be able to gather after a 10-second conversation.
“Yes, it is.” The room began to fill with smoke.
“Look, ma’am, do you have a particular reason for being here, or did you come here in the rain to be a pain in the neck?”
“Well, as I mentioned before, I‘m here to see an Arlo White.”
“Arlo White?” She had a snarky voice.
“That’s what I said.”
“Sounds like a fake name to me.” She slowly turned around to the wall of names behind her and scanned the rows passive-aggressively.
“It may be as far as I know,” I said.
“Arlo White, eighth floor.” She snarled, “You’re welcome. Suite 821.”
Without glancing back at the Madonna wannabe, I made my way to the elevator and pushed number eight.
“Some lady you are,” she half muttered to herself before painting her nails with the half-used bottle of Wite-Out on her desk.
The elevator dinged, and a girl wearing all Forever 21 clothes and false pink pastel nails stepped out, staring at her phone, out of place in comparison to the gloomy retro vibe of the building. As she walked, her Kate Spade boots clicked on the tile floor. Inside, the elevator was like any elevator, the buttons a pale yellow and the numbers up to 12. For some reason, someone thought it had been a good idea to install a stereo system.
“On 99.5, we have the hottest hits.”
“And the hottest men. Have you checked out Tyler Smith’s new album, Casey?”
“I have, and soon will the listeners with the song, ‘All I Know’ coming right up.”
Lucky for me, the elevator dinged just as the song started. Though from what I heard, it was decent. It wasn’t painful, but at the same time I wouldn’t listen to it on my own time.
My shoes squelched on the bland, red carpet, still soggy from the rain. Suite 821 was a bit down the hall, the door made from a cheap oak knockoff and the window from frosted glass with the words, “Arlo White, defense lawyer. ‘Call A. White if you want a fair fight!’” written in 50’s font next to a pair of cartoon boxing gloves. I grimaced, grabbing the knob and thinking of how sad Arlo White’s life must be, before opening the door.
Inside was an empty desk that should’ve belonged to a secretary, and a set of maybe five red-cushioned waiting chairs. No one was in the chairs, either. The whole place was as empty as a shut-in’s funeral. Wearily, I walked inside and observed the desk. On it was a white telephone, and next to it was a stack of papers with a sticky note. The sticky note read, “Out sick, Real Housewives marathon today. Will finish work Monday.” Today was Tuesday, which suggested that the Real Housewives marathon would be going on a whole week. It also suggested that Mr. White ran a loose establishment, but reading the note wasn’t necessary to prove that fact.
I pulled my off-white Polaroid out from my jacket pocket and snapped a shot. I prefer Polaroids because, like the secretary downstairs, I don’t have enough money to buy an iPhone. Plus, I got the pictures straight away and didn’t need to find a place to develop them. Maybe Mr. White and I weren’t so different after all: we both were in a tough racket and ran probably not even four-star businesses.
I checked my watch and decided I should knock on the second fake oak door, since I was supposed to have met Arlo five minutes ago. No response. The whole office must have slept in, except it couldn’t have since I had called the guy fifteen minutes ago on my way here. I pushed the door open to find a long table. On that long table was a hand clutching a pencil, a suit, as cheap as a McDonald’s breakfast combo, and atop that suit, a head. A head with a hat on it, a bowling hat. The kind they used to wear in the old mafia movies. It didn’t have the Godfather-type chicness, and yet, it didn’t seem like you’d buy one at a neighborhood garage sale. A piece laid a little bit down the table, a polished one, much nicer than anything else the sap had on him.
In the other room, there was a sound: a click. In the waiting room, the door of Suite 821 clicked open. I reached for my gat and peeked through the crack of the door. A man in a suit leaned over the secretary’s desk and sighed.
“There’s always some show on. She can never just do her goddamn job.” He talked in a New York accent and had light brown slicked back hair, a goatee, and a grey briefcase. He looked even more dead and cheaper than the sap in the office. Resting his face in his hands, he looked at the floor, and then, walked slowly up to the door. I hid behind the door frame, and he walked in, coffee in hand.
“Jesus H. Christ.” He stared ahead not in fear, not in sadness, but weariness.
He said, “Dennis, they got Dennis.” I walked out from the shadows.
“Who’s Dennis?” The man instinctively took a step back. Unfortunately, out of fear, he didn’t check where he was stepping and stumbled into Dennis’s lap, screaming and falling over, dropping his three dollar coffee, and spilling it all over his lap.
“Who’re you?” I laid the piece on the table next to Dennis and helped the guy up.
“Me-me? I’m the fella who runs this fine establishment. Who’re you?” He sarcastically wiped the coffee off his pants.
“Bonnie Ventura. You Arlo White?”
“No, I’m Vito Corleone. I mean, come on, look at me, do I look like a threat?”
“The saddest looking people are the ones to look out for.”
“Gee thanks. I appreciate the compliment, but that ain’t the case with me.” He sat down, looking at the pool of blood surrounding Dennis. Then he sighed, shaking his head wearily.
“I could really use a drink about now.” He said.
“How about some coffee?” I said.
Arlo looked from Dennis to me.
“You didn’t kill ‘im, did you?”
“I’m a private detective, not a cop, killing ain’t my line of work.”
“Okay…okay.” He sighed. “But you’re paying.”
The diner was Slim’s Pancake House, and it was straight from the 50s. The lettering of the sign was that of the words on Arlo’s door, and the prices were cheaper than his outfit, a true gem.
“I like it. These types of places are rare,” Arlo said. “Nowadays, coffee is six dollars, pancakes fourteen when it tastes like a hotel breakfast. I say fuck that. I’m not paying for a five star dinner. I’m paying for scrambled eggs, no garnishes, no cheese imported from France, no long-range, all natural, low-fat milk. If I wanted that, I’d go to a vegan cafe in Brooklyn.” A waitress came to fill up our mugs.
“Thank you.” He took a long sip. “Nowadays, people are so picky. They only eat what the New York Times reviews.” I shrugged.
“All that’s true, but when it comes right down to it, some people are diner people and some just aren’t.”
“Are you a diner person?” he asked.
“I don’t see why people eat any other food.” I took out a cigarette from my coat pocket. “They don’t mind smoking in here, do they?”
I flipped the lighter open, and Arlo watched the tobacco light.
“Could I have a light?” he asked.
“Sure, why not?” I handed him a cigarette and brought the flame to it. He leaned back against the classic, red-padded booth we both sat in.
“Now, are you ready to talk about Dennis or not?” He squinted.
“What’s your play here?”
“I don’t know what’s going on half the time, and I certainly haven’t figured enough out to make a play.” I took a sip of my coffee. It was black, but watered down, so the bitterness wasn’t nearly as bitter as it could’ve been.
“Isn’t it your job to know what’s going on half the time?” Arlo pointed his cigarette at me.
“My job is to figure out what’s going on, not to know it.”
“And how’s figuring stuff out going for you?”
“Not too great.”
“Not too great.” He leaned back in his seat and looked at me, relaxed.
“Well, my day hasn’t been going too great either. Dennis was an old…client of mine. Came to me for advice.”
“Advice on what?” He shrugged.
“Money stuff. Guy had a gambling problem, a serious one.”
“Serious ‘cause he was winning too much or losing too much?”
“I hired him when he was losing. A couple hours ago, he was winning.”
“And that’s something you pride yourself on?”
“The man’s dead. In my book, that’s nothing to be proud of.”
“I hope that in most people’s books, it’s nothing to be proud of,” I said.
“I can think of someone who may be proud of it.”
I raised my eyebrows at Arlo, and he smiled, not with smugness or happiness but with fatigue. The man didn’t have the impression of someone who prided himself with most things, or even cared about most things. I liked it. People who are too enthusiastic have too much to hide. In my theory, that’s where the enthusiasm comes from.
“Mikey Devant,” Arlo said finally.
“Mikey Devant? Sounds faker than your name.”
Arlo took a sip of his coffee.
“Well, I can assure you my name’s 100% real.” He smiled.
“Is that a fact?”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
“The secretary in your building didn’t seem to think so.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t eat breakfast with her.”
“Did she have curly blonde hair and a lip on her?”
“That would be Loretta.” He sighed. “Girl’s a real piece of work.”
“She’s got a champagne taste on a beer budget.” Without elaboration or pauses, Arlo continued. “Could be useful in your case here, though. See, when Dennis was my client, sometimes, we’d go to this casino on 14th, named Mirage – ”
“There’s a casino called Mirage?”
“Yeah, I know. Counterintuitive. Anyways, Dennis used to go there, and I’d talk to him about gambling, coach him on it.”
“So, you taught him how to cheat?”
“Nah, he taught himself how to cheat. I just tried to figure out what made it so addicting for him.”
“And what’d you find?”
“Nothing. I’d make a bad detective, but what I did find was that Loretta works there every Tuesday night, and Dennis had a thing for her.”
“Uck. What kinda thing? Could she’a killed him?”
“I don’t know. My job is to figure out what’s going on, not to know it.’” He said, mocking me.
“No, my job is to figure out what’s going on. You’re a lawyer. Your job is to know what’s going on.” I paused. “So I take it that knowing stuff hasn’t been going too great for you?”
“No, it hasn’t. It hasn’t been going too great.”
I took out a flask from the inside pocket of my trench coat.
“You like rye?”
“It’s – ” He checked his knockoff Rolex. “8:57 in the morning. Don’t you have a job to do?”
“Ar, I’m a good detective, because I follow my intuition, and half of the time, what my intuition is telling me is that I could use a drink.”
“So you’re drunk on half your cases?”
“More than half, and I wouldn’t say ‘drunk.’ ‘Drunk’ makes it sound like I don’t know where to put my feet. Drinking is what helps me solve my cases and gives me ‘moments of clarity,’ and if that bothers you, I don’t really care. All I know is that I’m too sober to solve this case, and I can see you could use a drink yourself.”
“Huh.” He studied me as I poured the rye into my 50s mug and swirled it around with a coffee spoon. Then he rubbed his eyes with his hands, exasperated. “I like rye as much as any other liquor.”
I filled his mug to the brim before tucking the flask back inside my coat. He sat and watched the liquids blend for a moment before drinking it all in one swift motion.
Since Arlo was evidently a not-so-great lawyer, and didn’t know what the word was with Loretta, we decided to pay her a visit wherever she lived, since when we left Arlo’s sad office building Loretta was not in her usual place in the lobby. We took my car, a pitch black ‘67 Chevy Impala. It used to belong to a moll who had a real thing for cars. So much so that she killed her husband in it after he tried to cut off her allowance. My sister, Ariana, worked on the case and managed to pull it out of evidence for me. Ariana was a good detective. Sure, she could be unenthusiastic, annoying, offtrack, and uncaring, but when it came down to the real tough parts of the job, she was a right on, smart girl. We would need her help.
“Ariana!” I put her on speaker phone.
“Bonnie, did you finally come to your senses and accept my offer?” She wanted me to join the force.
“You know, just as much as I’d do that, I would never stoop down to a cop’s level.”
“But you would stoop down to a con artist’s level.”
“Private investigators are not con artists.” I paused. “Except for maybe Archie.” Archie was a private detective and a con artist at that; the man had no real talent and spent his days hypnotising frantic victims of crimes who detested cops.
“Archie! Well, when you have a change of heart, you know who to call. Speaking of which, why’d you call this time?”
“You have any info on a Loretta Capman?”
“Hang on for a minute – I’ll see what I can do – ”
Arlo turns to me, “Your friend?”
“Two year difference.”
Arlo and I went back to sitting in silence. He emptied his cigarette ashes into the Mikey atop my dashboard, as the rain tapped gently on his window. The storm was letting up now, though to be outside you’d still want an umbrella. Miserable weather. I preferred sunny days over rainy ones, but I preferred thunderstorms over sunny days.
Ariana got back on the phone.
“Well she’s not in the system, but the last charge to her credit card was at Lenny’s Lodge, a motel just outta town.”
I hung up and started the engine. The streets were drawn weirdly throughout the city. Luckily, I knew where Jameson was because of its frequent use. If you wanted to go out north of the city, Jameson was the road to take. With that being said, whether Loretta killed Dennis or not, she was almost certainly guilty of something. Jameson was a long way from Arlo’s building, so going to a motel there meant you intended on skipping town, and skipping town after a murder meant there was some kind of connection. I turned to Arlo. I doubted it, but he might have known something about Capman that was important.
“So what was Loretta like?”
“What? As a secretary?”
I glared at him, “No. As a driver?”
Arlo sighed. “Well, I didn’t give her much thought.”
“Yeah. Makes sense, considering she didn’t know who you were.”
“She knows who I am. A while back, when Dennis and I were at Mirage, he was flirting with her, and when she asked who I was, he said a lawyer. She said something about how it was strange for a lawyer to be at a casino, and then said that if she ever needed law advice, she’d call me. About a week later, she called and asked me to dinner.”
“And you’re only mentioning this now? What did you say?”
“I was busy.”
“I don’t know. On a case.”
We stopped at a red light, and I shook my head, “You know, for a lawyer, you don’t seem to pay much attention to detail.”
“And for a detective you don’t seem very sober.”
“Being sober doesn’t factor into the job requirements.”
By the time we pulled up at 3932 Jameson Street, the rain had nearly stopped and it continued only as a misty drizzle. 3932 was on the outskirts of town, and pine trees nearly surrounded it. A rehabbed, one-story cabin had been transformed into a “luxury get away,” or at least, that’s what the sign read. The structure would’ve made a good log cabin if it was in a different place, at a different time, with a little fixing up. In front of the lodge was an American flag atop a relatively tall pole, the flag tattered and dirty. The whole building, flag and all, looked like it could’ve been a filming location for Twin Peaks.
The two of us walked inside.
“Jesus.” Arlo gazed at the walls.
He said “Jesus” in reference to the animal heads mounted on the walls. It’s the first thing anyone would notice when they walked in. There were so many that it looked like a taxidermist’s. Deer, elk, moose, fox, bears. A real nice place to stay if you liked dead animals watching everything did. It didn’t bother me per se; what bothered me was when hotels hung up motivational travel quotes to seem unique, when you could buy them at Macy’s, Kohl’s, or any retailer near you. Aside from the animal heads, what was noticeable was the smell of gasoline.
I approached the front desk. A man was sitting, reading the newspaper. He wore thin wired glasses, and looked like he was in his late 60s with a long white mustache, and a cowboy hat that made him look like a sheriff from a western.
“Excuse me, sir?” He sat next to an ornate golden bell, like Hector Salamanca. The man slowly raised his head.
“Do you have a guest here by the name of Loretta Capman?”
“I wouldn’t know, ma’am. I don’t ask the fellas their names. I just give them their room keys.”
I took out a badge. “Well, could you check? It’s important.”
“I suppose so.” The man kept no computer, and instead had a big book with tourists’ names. His frail fingers flipped through the pages slowly until he stopped to squint at one page.
“Thank you, sir.”
We walked through the hallway to the end. As we walked, the smell of gasoline grew stronger.
“Jesus Christ. What’d the gal do? Light herself on fire?”
“I certainly hope not. That would destroy our one lead.” When we reached the door, I took out my gun. “Po-lice, open up!”
“I thought you said you weren’t a cop?” Arlo whispered, staring at the badge I still clutched in the palm of my hand.
“I’m not. I bought this on Amazon for 76 cents.” It read B. VENTURA. “It was name customizable.”
The loud sound of an engine growled from outside of the building, and I charged into the room, the doors unlocked. We ran to the open window. A rickety old 60s Cadillac leisurely passed the window. The car’s paint had chipped away. It was faded red with one of the doors being another color entirely, which you could only classify as a mix of blue and grey creating an unusual pastel metallic color. If the vehicle could be described as a person, it would be the weird quirky kid that no one wanted to play with at recess in elementary school. But it was not the vehicle that was important. It was the driver.
In the front seat sat Loretta Capman; in her mouth sits a lit cigarette; next to her, a duffel bag full of cash.
She batted her long eyelash extensions at Arlo and said, “Aw, look who’s playing games with the detective, sore loser honey. You’re missing out, 50 thousand in cash and you turned it down,” before speeding away in her convertible.
I sat in my office across from Arlo. He rubbed his eyes with his hands and then looked around. I had a small office, smaller than and slightly nicer than his too. It had a respectable vibe. Furnishing the room were several plants, like ferns and cacti, but the room was overall minimalistic: how I liked things. The carpet was white, the walls were white, and the desk was oak along with the chairs. On the desk was a gold plaque with my name, “B. VENTURA, Private Investigator.” It looked fancy, but you could buy it online for twelve dollars, similar to most of the knickknacks in the room. The most expensive thing was the liquor that I kept it in a cabinet behind me at all times. I checked my watch and poured the man facing me a drink of scotch.
“It’s not even 10:00 yet, Ar, this may be the quickest case I’ve ever solved.”
“You sound like a cop.”
“Fuck you. Now talk.”
“Why? Am I under arrest?”
“No, but you will be if you don’t cut the crap.”
He sighed, looked me dead in the eyes, and then threw the whole drink down.
“Fine. I lied when I worked with Dennis. I didn’t try to figure out what made gambling addicting; I helped him gamble. We’d go every Tuesday night, which happened to be the same night Loretta worked. The manager, Mikey and Loretta figured out we were cheating pretty quickly and had a talk with us. Dennis was dead set on the idea. He was the real mastermind; I just helped him a bit. So you know how I said she asked me out to dinner? Well, she did. She asked me to kill Dennis.”
“I knew she wouldn’t date you.”
“Don’t gloat over it. Anyways, she said Mikey, the manager, would give me 20 of the 50k Dennis and I stole if I could take it from him.”
“And you didn’t take it?”
“Of course I didn’t take it. Taking it from Dennis meant killing him, and I may cheat at gambling, but who doesn’t? I needed money. Being a lawyer doesn’t exactly buy a Rolex.”
“But it does buy a fake one.”
“That it does. But just because I’d prefer a Rolex and a fridge that works, that doesn’t mean I’d kill a man, especially a man I know; I couldn’t live with myself.”
“So, what are you thinking?”
“Right now, I’m thinking I could use another glass.” I poured him one. The light from the glass reflects onto the ceiling painting’s different hues of brown and orange.
“Loretta. I’m guessing Mikey promised her 20 of the 50k Dennis stole. She flirts with him, then they go home, but he catches her stealing the money. She shoots him.”
“Leaves it in your office as a warning.”
“Exactly.” I lit a cigarette.
“Lotta work to send one message.” Then I paused. “You ever think of quitting the law business?”
“To do what?”
“I lied to you; I cheated at gambling. Why would you want me to work for you?”
I shook my head and exhaled the smoke, blowing it into the air and leaning back in my chair.
“It’s the people who admit they lied that you can trust, not the ones who claim to never have.” I paused a moment to let it sink in.
“So you’re not going to arrest me?”
“We don’t need another person locked up for years for a minor crime.”
“Is that why you hate cops?”
“Is what why I hate cops?”
“You talk about how all cops do is kill people. You hate them because you hate the justice system? And if you hate the justice system, my question is why are you working in bringing people to justice?”
I sighed and lifted my chin up slowly to look him in the eyes.
“I don’t hate cops or the justice system, and I do what I do because I’m good at it. I dislike both because of the power we give them and how strict our prison policies are.”
“In China, you can be put away just for talking about certain things.”
“Well, this isn’t China, and we’re not communists.”
“It’s more of a dictatorship,” he said under his breath.
“You like politics so much? Be a politician.”
“I thought you wanted me to be a detective.”
“I do.” He studied the ceiling before glancing around.
“Not a lot of room in here for another desk?”
“Then make room.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair, lighting a cigarette.
“I’ll work with you part-time, but I’m still a lawyer.”
“You get 10% of all profits.”
“10%? What am I? A slave? No. 50.”
We shook on it.