Excerpt: Four Part Hermony
Four Part Hermony is a collection of four short stories.
Copyright ©2002-2015 Patricia Green
All rights reserved.
Following is an excerpt from the very beginning of story number one.
“Not A Private Dick”
The frosted, glass-paneled door marked “Carter and Cash, Privit Investigations” swung open with a well-oiled swish. Jane Carter frowned for the thousandth time as she read the misspelling and muttered something about “dumb-ass brothers-in-law,” as she strode through the portal.
Her partner, Rodney Cash, had his nose pressed firmly between the round pale globes of their secretary’s breasts, but looked up quickly as Jane came in.
“At it again, Rod?” Jane asked, pulling at the sash of her trench coat. “Any messages, Em?”
“I, ooo … I don’t remember,” Em responded, her myopic eyes closed as Rodney uncovered her left breast altogether.
“Always said you had a nice set, Em,” Jane commented. “But do you need to show ’em in the reception area?”
Rodney was suckling noisily by now.
“Sorry, Miss Carter, but there’s someone in your office,” Em answered. “Oh! Mr. Cash! Oh!”
Jane took two quick steps to the secretary’s desk and leaned over it, her voice forceful and blunt. “Stop slurping, Rod, damnit! Who’s in my office?”
The guilty pair straightened up somewhat, and Em began to pout, her pretty, childish face wreathed in dark curls making the expression entirely too cherubic.
Rodney finally found his voice. “Geez, Jane, there’s no need to yell! We were just having a little fun. It hasn’t ever bothered you before.”
Jane straightened and pulled a wrapped jaw-breaker from the skirt pocket of her well-tailored, mannish, pin-striped suit. “Yeah, well, you don’t usually go at it while there’s a client here. Why aren’t you in there with the pay-check, Rod?”
Rodney held Em’s hands when she would have buttoned up her dress-front, and then answered Jane’s question. “Asked for you. Some society guy with a wallet-padded butt. Says his name’s Gerald Frederickson. Know him?”
Jane shook her head and glanced toward the scarred wooden door marked “Private.” “Know what he wants?”
Both Rodney and Em shook their heads before Rodney answered. “No, but he’s been waiting for half-an-hour.”
Jane turned toward the door but paused at the threshold to her office. “When’m I going to convince you to drop that dick and come home with me, Em?” she asked with a tease in her voice.
Em went bright red. “Miss Carter! You know I can’t. Why, it just wouldn’t be right! I’m-”
“Not like that,” the three chorused, to Em’s further embarrassment.
“Well, I’m not!” she insisted, pouting again.
Jane looked at Rodney, her expression seeking confirmation. “My loss, eh, Rod?”
Rod turned to Em, pressing his fingers over a protruding nipple suggestively. “You know, Emmy-baby, we could have a really good time. You, me, and Jane.”
Rodney shook his head and grinned. “Not your brand of puss I guess, Jane,” he said with a shrug.
Jane smiled and winked at them. They’d played this scene out a dozen times before. Em was determined not to do it with a woman, and Jane and Rodney had fun teasing her about it.
Jane opened the door and walked into her private office, her nose wrinkling at the smell of cigar smoke. “Mr. Frederickson.” She rounded the chair sitting before her desk and offered her hand. “I’m Jane Carter. How can I help you?”
He stood up. A tall, spare man with steel-gray hair and an expensive Italian silk suit with a white carnation boutonniere stuck into the wide lapel. Frederickson took her proffered hand and reciprocated her firm handshake. Jane waved him back into his chair and took her place in the leather chair behind the desk.
“Miss Carter,” he began, looking at her through gold-rimmed spectacles. He reached into his jacket and retrieved another cigar.
“Please don’t, Mr. Frederickson. The smoke bothers me.”
He looked startled for a moment, but slowly replaced the cigar in his jacket. “You’re not what I expected, Miss Carter.”
“Oh? And what did you expect, Mr. Frederickson?”
“Well, I don’t know, exactly. I don’t make a habit of dealing with private detectives.”
“I’m not a private dick, Mr. Frederickson. I’m an investigator. Now, let’s cut past the chit-chat. What do you need?”
His gray brows nearly met with his frown, and he assessed her more closely, taking in her upswept blonde hair, gray eyes, and smug, crooked smile. Apparently, she passed muster. “I need someone to protect my daughter.”
Jane reached for a pencil and began making notes on a pad of paper. “How old’s the kid?”
Frederickson snorted and Jane looked up quickly. “She’s not a child, Miss Carter. My daughter’s 23 years old!”
Jane wrote down the number and then tapped her pencil. “Why does she need a baby-sitter then?”
“My fault, really,” he told her. “Her mother died a dozen years ago and I’m a busy man. I left her with governesses, tutors, nannies, but what she needed was a firm hand and paternal guidance.” He paused.
“So, she’s a spoiled brat. Is that what you’re telling me?”
Frederickson looked at Jane, his sharp features sharper for a moment, then his lips turned up at the corners, tilting his gray mustache askew. “Yes. Yes, I suppose I am. She’s quite willful.”
Jane tapped her pencil impatiently. “I’m not in the brat-retraining business, Mr. Frederickson. I think you know that.”
He crossed his legs and fussed with the carnation absently. “You came highly recommended, Miss Carter. Though I was warned about your bluntness, I didn’t expect you to be quite so caustic.”
Jane laughed. “Caustic. That’s a new one.” She rose from her chair, still smiling, and came to lean her fanny on the edge of the desk, closer to Frederickson. “Look, Mr. Frederickson, I’m a busy woman. Tell me what you need, and I’ll tell you if you’ve got the right agency. Okay?”
Frederickson stared at her silk-stockinged legs for a moment, as though surprised that she had such long, lean gams. He adjusted his glasses and then found his composure. “My daughter’s in trouble. She got mixed up with a group of n’er-do-wells, miscreants, and, well, thugs. Her constant search for excitement has landed her in a very tenuous situation this time, I’m afraid. Her latest beau is Vito Salvatore.”
“Her ‘beau,’ Mr. Frederickson?”
He looked uncomfortable for a moment. “Her lover then, Miss Carter. Though a father would prefer to look the other way in such delicate matters.”
Jane nodded, feeling a little sorry for the man who so obviously loved his daughter, but was lost as a parent. “Vito Salvatore is a Mafioso. He’s up for murder and racketeering charges, but the trial’s nearly over. How does she fit in here?”
“The police have given me to believe that Lynette may know something of Salvatore’s activities. She’s been subpoenaed to testify in three days. I’ve asked them repeatedly to protect her, as these Mafia persons are a dangerous group, but the police claim that she’s not an integral witness and they don’t have the manpower to give her round-the-clock protection. There have been threatening phone calls, and yesterday, a dead rat was found in her lingerie drawer.”
Jane nodded. LAPD was understaffed; but it did look as though the girl was being warned. Not too subtly either.
“I love my daughter, Miss Carter, and I’m a wealthy man. I want to hire you to keep her safe until her testimony has been made. She’s one of the last witnesses, and once she takes the stand there will be no purpose in harming her. The damage will be done, if whatever she may know is damaging.”
Jane stood and walked toward a Venetian blind-shaded window and peered out at the city through the slits. This wasn’t her usual sort of case. Rodney generally took things like this. “Why me, Mr. Frederickson? Why not Rodney Cash, or Rupert Fenton, or half-a-dozen other private dicks?”
“Because you’re a woman, Miss Carter.”
Jane turned to look at him, her brows raised. That was the usual reason for not hiring her.
Frederickson went on. “My daughter is far too, er … impressionable, Miss Carter. She falls in love easily, and with rather reckless abandon. I don’t want her succumbing to another male’s dubious charm in the process of wresting her from Salvatore.”
Jane nodded, though the irony of Frederickson’s ignorant choice of detectives didn’t elude her. “My fees are $100 per day, plus expenses. I’ll want to keep her under wraps, somewhere where she won’t be known as Lynette Frederickson.”
“I have a private suite at the Bonaventure Hotel. Would that suit?”
“No. It’s the Frederickson Suite. They’d have to be incredibly stupid not to look there. But I want you to have it readied for occupancy. Let the dogs go sniffing at the wrong fire hydrant. I’ll book her into the Western Gardens over on Sunset instead.”
“But, Miss Carter! The Western Gardens is full of actors and other entertainment people. Hardly a suitable environment for a gently raised young woman!”
Jane offered him a skeptical look. “From what you tell me, Mr. Frederickson, your daughter has hardly been sheltered. Now work with me on this, or I can’t help you.”
He nodded, frowning. “I’ll have it taken care of.”
“Just have the money available, Mr. Frederickson. That’s all I’ll need from you. Don’t make the reservations, don’t call the hotel, and don’t try to check up on us. Your presence will only bring Salvatore’s hit-men straight to your daughter.”
“But how will I know…?”
Jane grinned wryly. “If you don’t see her picture plastered in the newspaper or get a call from the morgue, you’ll know.” Jane reached for his hand to dismiss him, thoughts racing around in her head as she considered all the precautions she’d have to make for the next three days’ work.
“I don’t like it,” Frederickson complained.
“You’ll like it less if she’s dead.”
He nodded and took her hand. “How shall I arrange for her to come into your care?”
“Tell her to meet me at The Pantry tonight at seven. I’ll take it from there.”