Red. Red. I want red;
There’s no substitute for red.
Red, red, paint it red;
Green ain’t mean compared to red.
Red red, knocks ‘em dead.
There’s no substitute for red.
Red, red, red, red;
Red, red, I want red.
This is the fifth episode of Sylvester B Stilldumm, entrepreneurial investigative engineer, and his associate, Butch.
Lethal Purse, 5
Once again, I opened the door to my office, to find it occupied by a dame, this one a thirty-something redhead, with a penchant for the color red. Red had always worked for me just fine; I was getting more attracted to it by the second. Her skirt was subtle, allowing her blouse to announce the arrival of both of her most prominent assets. Note that I did not say they were her best assets. That would be an opinion, and I like to stick to facts. The fact is, I had not had time to assess what may or may not have been her best assets. I like to think that assets start in the brain, and flow downward, but that goes against conventional logic.
My name is Sylvester B. Stilldumm. That’s two m’s at the end of my name, I like to add meaningfully, just so that there is no confusion. I run an investigating agency, and I occasionally get someone to walk in the front door, who manages to conduct business, without being assaulted by my associate, an orange tabby cat named Butch. Occasionally.
Evidently, Miss High-Tops thought that conventional logic should prevail, as she shifted those slender shoulders, rhythmically, creating a certain undulating motion from the front of her sequined blouse, which tended to attract the eye(s). Not mine. My eyes found it far more enlightening to look for information, where it is most likely to be found, and that has not yet coincided with the front of a young woman’s chest.
“Butch,” I said warningly, to my associate, a conniving cat, on whom I rely heavily-too heavily, it has been suggested-as he started for her legs. Legs were a particularly attractive feature of the two-legged adversaries, as Butch had found out repeatedly in the past. I am ashamed to admit that I approve of his actions, but the fact is that that’s why I pay the big bucks for the gourmet tuna, that I bribe him with every working day of my life. I work; he naps, until I need a nudge, or a client needs a nudge, whatever, and then he is all action. He earns every morsel of that tuna.
As much as I would like to make it on my own, brains are not always enough. Sometimes you just need the street moxie of a tough cat. Butch qualifies. Now he held off, as I sent a prodigious blast of water, right into his blood-shot eyes, with my Super-Soaker. The last time I had a client actually in this office, Butch sent him down the three flights on the roll. He wasn’t even really trying. I needed to keep Red fluttering in front of me, long enough to get a handle, metaphorically speaking, on the situation. I also kept my dominant eye on that purse; I’d had some rude awakenings, on the short end of a ruthless purse.
“Not at all!” she exclaimed indignantly and excitedly at the same time, managing to convey equal amounts of enthusiasm, for both adverbs.
“Huh?” I asked naively, and then had the grace to blush when she rejoined, “Butch. I’m not.”
“I was just talking to my kitty, right behind you.” Now I was indignant.
“Oh, of course, silly me!”
“Miss, er, uh...” I stumbled waiting for a name.
“My name is Betsy, Betsy Ditz; I’m an entertainer, who is in need of your services.”
“Maybe it would be best to have a seat, and give those shoulders a rest. What form does your entertainment take?”
“What? Oh, well, yes, I do feel very tense, and sometimes my shoulders just feel as though they could use a little rub-a-dub-dub. I am a professional dancer. I can also do other kinds of dance, but right now I am dancing at the Cha-Ching Club, on Seventh St.” She shifted in her chair, and let things settle into place, for once. A professional dancer, huh. As opposed to what other kind?
I was interested in the facts. So far, all I had seen was the fantasy. “Would you like to tell me why you are here?” And while you are at it, maybe you could tell me what your game is.
“I’m here because your add says you are a private investigator, but you do not seem to be like the other investigators I have met. They were more inclined to be exploratory.”
“Madam, you are not supposed to offer anything but my salary, and that comes in the form of cash, generally in exchange for services rendered, not the other way around.”
“What? What are you implying? Never mind. I am here because I have been receiving these,” and she took a bundle of correspondence out of her purse, and shoved them distastefully in my direction. I took a clean handkerchief out of my pants pocket, and wrapped the letters in it, for later perusal.
“What do the letters say?” I asked, helpfully.
“They are the meanest, the most foul of all messages, accusing me of being unfaithful, and demanding $10,000 to keep this information from my husband.” She was either an accomplished actress, or she was telling the truth. From what I was seeing, she seemed to fit the profile that a husband might feel compelled to suspect, so I was going with the acting.
“Is there any truth to the accusation?” I felt it necessary to put my questions right out there on the table right next to the cards that were not there. I placed a deck of playing cards on the table, along with my business card. She had bristled at the question, but when her hair settled back into place, she gave it a toss with her head, and exclaimed, “Absolutely not. How dare you ask the question?”
“I ask the question, because I need to know the answer.” I didn’t much care for Red, and her revolving headlamps.
“Of course. Well, now that you have it, what are you going to do with it? Do you believe me or not?” She stared expectantly at me, allowing her body to slump back onto her chair.
I didn’t know what to think and I didn’t know how much I was going to be able to rely on Butch. He was back under the south window, pretending to be sleeping. “What does your husband have to say about these?” I held the notes up.
“He doesn’t know about them,” she said in a low voice.
“What?” Now it was my turn to be dramatic. “Why wouldn’t you show them to him immediately?” This was totally unexpected.
“Because he already thinks I am being unfaithful.” Now I understood the low voice. I leaned over, and got in her face.
“So it makes me ask you again, if-” Her palm would have caught me square across the jaw, except that Butch was there to deflect the hand, and to detach it if I gave him the signal, but I took some salmon jerky out of my jacket pocket instead, and tossed a hunk in his direction. The sound of his choppers, was as deadly as a spring-loaded steel bear trap.
“If you try that again, I’m gonna let him loose,” I said with a smile, but the smile was normally kept in the deep-freeze, and would soon be back in its place.
“Betsy, we need to let-what’s your husband’s name?- know about these notes.” I was not at all sure what to make of this turn of events. She came to me, before she even told her old man? How twisted is that?
“His name is Rocky, but I can’t tell him about these notes, without him finding out that they exist. Wait, that’s not what I mean. If I tell him about the notes, then I know he will accuse me of having done exactly what the notes claim I did. He’ll take them as evidence of my guilt. It’s the way he thinks. That’s why I didn’t say anything.”
“But he has to know. I mean, we have to let him know; he’s your husband.”
We agreed that I should meet him alone, with me getting in touch with Betsy again, when he had left. I had to admit, that her conviction he already believed her to be guilty, intrigued me. What could she have done to give him that impression, and still be innocent? I was pulled into this drama, hook, line and sinker.
I wasted no time, getting in touch with Rocky, asking him to come down to my office to discuss a matter of the utmost importance, concerning a notification, received by his wife, only days earlier. He wanted to play twenty questions on the phone, but I urged him to cram it, and make a cameo appearance in my office, at nine the next morning. I went over the situation with my associate Butch so that we were on the same page. Butch doesn’t read that well, so he likes to stick close to me. He is a reflex kind of guy.
When the Rockster had appeared in the doorway. huffing and puffing from his bout with the stairs, I felt as though I were ready for whatever came at me. I was not expecting the two thugs Rocky brought with him, and asked that they wait out in the foyer. Since there is no foyer in my building, they had to go next door, in order to fulfill my request. It all seemed to work to my advantage.
“What d’ya want? I am a busy man, and have no time for small-time Private Eyes, especially ones with a cat for a body guard.” He laughed at his own humor, proving that he was a real wit: a halfwit, but a wit none the less.
“Leave my bodyguard cat out of this. He’ll get into it when he’s good and ready. Meanwhile, what can you tell me about these notes your wife has been getting in the mail?”
“Why would I know anything?” His response was automatic-too automatic. Where was the question about what kind of notes they were? If she were my old lady, I might want to inquire as to what kind of letters they were.
“I didn’t say you did. I asked a question.” I always get suspicious, when questions are answered with questions. I like facts. “The reason why you might know something is because the letters were not mailed, they were simply slipped through the mail slot, on the front door, to end up mixed in with the mail. But the person delivering these notes, did not realize that he was being filmed by a neighbor’s security camera, so we have the perpetrator captured on film, delivering the incriminating evidence.” If Rocky were as dumb as I thought him to be, then this should be over in a flash.
“That’s impossible!” Bingo. Dumber. “I mean, that’s impossible for me to believe, that a criminal could get that close to my home. Did you get a good look at him?”
“What makes you think the perp is a man?” I was going to go about this bass-ackwards.
“I mean, I just assumed it. Was it?” He was nervous, loud, and his face was beginning to take on a sheen, indicating the presence of perspiration. I did not think it was unduly warm in my office. And Rocky was still asking questions.
I decided to play this out for a moment. Asking questions was an art. The trick was to ask a whole bunch of seemingly dumb questions, in order to sneak one genuine question in there, just for shits and giggles.
“Let me ask the questions, Rocky, would you please? Do you have any reason to believe that your wife is unfaithful?” I figured i would start with the obvious.
“Yes! Yes to you asking the questions, that is. Why should I think my wife is unfaithful?” He did not seem to understand that he was asking another question. Most peculiar.
“She said as much. She said she did not tell you about the letters, because you would suspect that the letters were true. My question, again, is do you have reason to believe your wife is unfaithful?”
“Did you know she was a stripper?” If he asks me one more question, I’m going to shoot one at him, and he’s not going to like it.
“Yes, she told me. Did you?” The sweat was starting to flow of his forehead in rivulets.
“Of course, I knew it. Why do you think I think she’s unfaithful?”
“That’s funny. I was going to ask why you thought she was unfaithful. You beat me to it. Now answer me this. Why did you send those letters to your wife?”
“I didn’t! You said yourself that they were not sent. You said you got pictures of the perp-”
“To which you said, Impossible! That tells me you know that the pics were not delivered from outside the house, but from inside. Why, Mr. Ditz? Why did you deliver the letters to your wife? What did you hope to accomplish?” I doubted that he would sing, but I wanted to know anyway.
“It was a test. If she came to me, it meant she was innocent; if she did not, then it meant that she was guilty. She went to you instead,” he said simply. I handed him the Kleenix, to stop the flow of sweat.
“The only thing she is guilty of,” I said meaningfully, “is being married to a man, about to go to prison. There’s a cure for that, though. It’s called divorce.”
The last I saw of Rocky, he was trying to gather up his henchmen, from the bar down the block. He was not a happy camper. The last time I saw Red, she was no longer dancing, but instead was an instructor in a ballet academy for pre-teens. She seemed very comfortable in her new role.
Butch went back to his south window. I got out the windex, and tried to rearrange the grime outside my office on the window. That’s me, trying to rearrange the grime, without getting a load of it dumped on me.
I’ll keep you posted on that.