I sipped the coffee, winced at the taste of the stuff, and set it on the table.
“I had a few late night calls.” I said.
“No. Seriously?” Lucy shook her head at my slow nod, “Amber again? Didn’t we just go through this.”
“Yep. Not quite three months now.” I looked at the coffee, I was afraid to drink the stuff. There are reasons I get to the office first most mornings.
“What?” She demanded.
“Nothing. I mean… Shit, Lucy, how do you not grow hair on your chest drinking this stuff.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my coffee,” She said and took a drink from her own mug, letting me get a good look at the message on the side of the black mug, 'Fuck you You Fuckin' Fuck'. My Lucy, she's all class.
“I could stand a spoon up in this stuff, but thanks, it’ll keep me going all day.” I picked up the mug and toasted her health, said a silent prayer, and took a mouthful. That seemed to satisfy her.
“So what’s going on this time?”
“No idea. Fish thinks it's Amber too, can't be certain though as the caller ID was blocked.”
“And just the click when I answered.” I took another slug of the coffee, it really wasn’t that bad. I might even finish it. “Called half-a-dozen times. Last call was at six. I've been up since.”
“More likely you've been up since the first call. When it rains…” Lucy stepped away into her office and came back out with a manila envelope. “Process server got here just ahead of you.”
She tossed the envelope down on the desk between us, motioning for me to take a look.
“Looks like they’re going to come after me about the Tate shooting. Want me to appear before the licensing board. Somebody’s got it out for me.”
I picked up the envelope and glanced at her before pulling the summonses out and giving it the once over. Yep. The review board wanted an investigation into the handling of the Tate case and would probably push for a suspension of her license until she cleared the investigation.
“I heard a rumor that they might be doing that. I think I might have even mentioned it to you,” I said. She grunted something unflattering around her coffee mug.
“You might want to try and at least let them think you don't hate them this time.” Lucy gave me flat eyes. Yeah, that probably wasn't going to happen.
Three weeks back Lucy had shot Nathan Tate, a dirty little cheat of a man who was stealing from his boss. When he realized that Lucy was tailing him, taking pictures, and probably working for his boss, he came at her with a tire iron. When you’ve been dragged two blocks by a dirt bag you don’t take a lot of chances. Lucy put four thirty-eights in his chest after he took off the side mirror of our Camry. The police report called it a clean shooting, self-defense. It got more than a fair bit of media coverage. Hero Cop Involved in Shooting, and all that. Somebody downtown seemed to think it warranted a second look. It makes me nervous when folks look too closely at Lucy’s record. I’m never sure what they’re going to find.
“When it rains,” I agreed, though I hoped the trouble wouldn't come pouring down this time. But when Amber starts calling, the trouble comes calling, and she's got very good timing. Everyone should have an ex-wife like mine.
“Anything I can do to help you out? You called Allen, right? What's our plan?” I sat on the edge of what would have been our receptionists’ desk, you know, if we had one. As things stand it was a place to put the coffee maker and a not-so-healthy fern that my mother sent us when we opened the business... not sure how that thing has survived four years of neglect.
“Process server just left. Brinkman won’t be in his office until 9:30 at best. He already knows the case from the initial police investigation. I got this covered.”
“So, no help then? Okay, got it. I'll do my thing.” Lucy wouldn't ask for help unless things got really bad, but I’d keep my eye on the situation and keep it from getting to that point.
A slim silhouette appeared on the window, paused for a moment, then the door handle turned. An attractive blonde in a saffron pencil skirt, white blouse, and red three-inch heels came through our door as we stood across the desk from each other. I handed the paperwork back to Lucy and gave her a reassuring wink. Lucy gave the woman a shallow smile and disappeared back into her office, apparently, she didn't want to deal with clients this morning. I could understand that. I turned to the door and the woman who had just come through it.
“Good morning, I’m Joshua Hale. What can Bianchi & Hale Investigations do for you today Mrs.…”
“Upheim. Erin Upheim,” she glanced around, not finding what she expected. Our office doesn’t look much like what they show you in the movies, it throws people off. She decided that the burgundy sitting chairs, coffee table replete with National Geographic magazines, and reception desk were all in the right places. We must surely be a reputable agency. It’s all the generic office furniture that does it for people. Makes them feel more at ease. Like being at the dentist.
“My husband is cheating on me and I want you to catch him.” She said, glanced about, and strode toward Lucy's office only to be put off as the door swung shut behind Lucy.
No beating around the bush with this one she was a woman on a mission. I toyed with the idea of offering her a cup of coffee, decided that I’d better keep her alive. Paying clients are always a desired commodity in this business, and if she had any of Lucy’s coffee, she might not make it through the interview and to the retainer. Never poison a client before you get the retainer. I think that was the second lesson they taught in PI School.
I stood and went to the bookshelf, I usually do this little trick before the clients arrive, but it's nice to show off my handiwork every now and again. While she was deciding how to handle Lucy's abrupt exit and the door that had been shut in her face, I gave Franklin Dixon's Detective Handbook an easy pull. There was the soft hum of an electric motor and the entire bookcase slid aside to reveal the door to my office. It took me a whole weekend to get it right, but I'm incredibly happy with the results. Mrs. Upheim looked just a touch taken aback and none to amused, but I gave her my best professional smile and swung the door open.
"Ms. Bianchi is unavailable at the moment, if you'd like to step into my office, we can see what I can do for you."
Erin Upheim strode past me into the office and stopped two steps inside the door with a perplexed look on her face. It's a look I've seen before on every client who's ever come through my door with a problem. See, my office doesn't look like Lucy's. It doesn't look like our outer office. What it looks like is our front door. It's old, everything in it is from another age. My office looks like something you'd see in an old movie. Everything within is metal or wood, there's no plastic to be seen, and everything has been well worn with age. A big oak desk with a wooden office chair sits prominently in the center of the office beneath a brass ceiling fan. There's a wooden chest of drawers behind the desk and an oak file cabinet in the corner. I even replaced the modern baseboard heat with a clunky old cast iron radiator, which sits below my window, which is, of course, complete with tin vertical blinds and dirty curtains. The fluorescent lights are gone replaced with wall sconces, a desk lamp, and a pair of standing lamps in the corners. The walls are papered, and the floor is wood and the whole effect is like stepping back in time to the nineteen thirties or forties. It took a lot of work to put the whole thing together and I must say, I'm rather taken with it.
Erin Upheim didn't look like she was pleased by the change of venue. She glanced back to the outer office and then back to my desk and the chairs before it. She was making up her mind whether to stay or not and the look on her face was disapproving. I moved past her to perch on the edge of the desk.
Lucy walked past on her way to the coffee machine and gave me an unvoiced thank you. I didn't let it show on my face, we're partners, you do what you can for your partner. Otherwise they kill you, or at least make you wish you were dead.
"So, am I the dame with the beautiful gams, or maybe, the skirt trying to sell you a sob story?" I turned my full attention back to my prospective client.
"Kinda makes you think Spade or Marlow doesn't it. No need to answer. That look on your face, I see that a lot. I'm the real deal doll, Josh Hale, Personal Detective. You've come to the right place." I gave her my most charming smile and waggled a finger at her pearl necklace and earrings, "I was thinking more along the lines of 'the skirt with the oyster fruit.' But that could change, we'll see how I write it up in the report. Now, what can I do for you? You mentioned a cheating husband."
“My husband is cheating on me and I want you to catch him.” She said for the second time. Her hand drifted up to her pearl necklace and she gave me an understanding smile.