Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)
TITLE: The Doll and the Gum-Shoe
By Mary Lou Cook
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A cold rain fell as I hoofed it down the street. Shoppers with their arms full of Christmas gifts hurried past me. I stopped by a newsstand built out of plywood and a few nails. The owner cut twine off the stacks of newspapers.
“Hey Newsie, got the Times there?”
“Marlowe, long time no see. Babe slammed another homer out of the Yankee Stadium.” Newsie handed me the newspaper. When the bangtail he was riding fell it ended his career as a jockey. Being thrown underneath the horse made him a cripple.
I gave him two bits and hurried across the street. A black and white drove by slow, I hurried into the diner. I don’t like the coppers stickin’ their noses in my business.
The diner was like other hash houses, along the front wall were booths, across from that a long counter with stools. On the back wall a swinging door lead to the kitchen. The waitress looked as old and as worn out as the diner. A yellow pencil stuck out of her over-bleached blond hair. At the far end of the counter sat a chump slumped over a cup of joe. He looked like he lost his last sawbuck on some nag. I’d seen that same look on my own mug. I laid the newspaper on the table and slid into the booth.
“What can I get ya’?” I looked up to see the waitress.
“A cup of joe.”
“Want somethin’ to eat?”
“No, just a cup of joe.”
“I drink mine black.”
My client walked into the diner, she was quite a dish. Pulling off her fisherman’s hat red curls fell around her face. Removing her yellow rain slicker I saw she wore brown trousers and a black turtleneck sweater. The doll was some looker.
“I assume you are Mr. Marlowe. I called you about a missing family member.” She slid in on the other side of the booth. “My name is Annie Smith. I haven’t much time. I left my tug boat and crew waiting at the docks.”
The waitress sat two cups of joe on the table. “Honey, want cream with yours?”
With a smile Annie answered, “Yes, please.” The waitress stopped popping her gum and smiled back.
Inside my suit pocket I grabbed my notepad and pen. “When was the last time you saw your family member?”
“It was two nights ago. My husband, Tom, got upset because I fixed leftovers for his dinner. He ignored me, gave me the cold shoulder. Late in the evening he would always go outside for a short walk. When he didn’t come back home I wasn’t concerned, I knew how upset he was over the leftovers. When he hadn’t come home the next day I started to worry. This morning he still hadn’t showed up so I called you.” Her eyes glistened over.
I pulled a napkin out of the dispenser and handed it to her. “Could Tom been snatched by someone?”
“Snatched? What do you mean by snatched?” She blew her nose on the napkin.
I pulled out a few napkins, laying the pile on the table. “Kidnapped. Taken against his will.”
“Oh, no, Tom doesn’t like strangers, avoided people he doesn’t know. Before we met he lived on the streets.” In tears she grabbed a napkin.
“What about the slammer?”
“Mr. Marlowe, I’m having the most difficult time understanding you.”
“In the pen, you know prison”
“I made phones calls. Tom wasn’t in any of the slammers.”
“I need a description, maybe a photo of your lug.”
She handed me a photo of Tom and her together on the tug boat. “Tom has a full gray beard. His hair’s all black except for the white strip down the middle of the top of his head.”
“I’ll do everything I can to find your family member.”
Preparing to leave she said, “Mr. Marlowe, your reputation precedes you. Please find Tom and bring him home.”
I watched Annie hurry toward the docks. A man could get dizzy with a dame like her.
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