I was sitting on the balcony overlooking the sun-scorched bay, reflecting on what I was going to do over the weekend when I heard a very loud explosion. It sounded close, so I ran downstairs and out onto the heated road above the beach. What I saw chilled me to the bone.The ocean hotel was ablaze and burning savagely.I could hear terror filled screams and people shouting in alarm.
Back in my house I charged back upstairs with what must have been a rather inappropriate grin on my face. It was just that the last few months had been very inconsequential as working life often is for a private detective, getting stuck with assignments such as confirming affairs and finding a missing loved one or pet. I walked into my bedroom and opened the mahogany cabinet next to my bed and took out my P. I. badge and gun, which I tucked slyly into my suede shoulder holster. I put the holster on and then my dark navy blue jacket. I did not usually carry a gun but as I was probably going to be there before the police it was better that I was prepared.
When I arrived at the hotel all hell was breaking out in the street. The hotel was still a raging furnace. I made my way to Jack Lunette, the unfortunate owner of this particular establishment. I pushed my way through the crowd of crying, rather frightened people then tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and I could see he was in a state of extreme shock and panic. “Jack, Jack are you ok?” I had to raise my voice to be heard above the mayhem.
He stared at me with an agonized expression on his red ruddy round face and said “Jim, my place is burning, it’s burning. There are people still in there”. Just as he said that I heard the unmistakable sound of the police cars, fire engines and ambulances approaching.
When the cops arrived I went back to my house. I knew it would be better to question Lunette later when he had calmed down. I had a suspicion he owed money to one or two of the big mobs near the centre of the city where crime got stickier as the night got darker, until the streets became a hustle of drug pushers, thieves and gangsters.
It was possible extortion was involved, Hell, it wasn’t even any of my damn business but I was still determined to find out what was going on. After all I had known Jack for a while.
I walked into my sitting room and filled a glass with bourbon whilst lighting a cigarette that dangled from the corner of my mouth. I then sat down and relaxed, thinking about what I would be doing that night and enjoying the warmth of the whiskey. Five minutes later the phone rang. As I made my way to it I caught a glimpse of myself in the wall mirror. It was a tall hardened man with eyes as blue as a psycho's that glanced back at me.
I picked up the phone “Hi, this is James Hayden ”
“Hi detective” purred the reply.
“Oh, hi Scarlet how are you doing”
“Ok but it’s a bit dull over here, if you know what I mean”
“ I think I do honey. Do you want me to take you to a movie tonight after drinks at my place, that is”
“ Sure Jim that would be fine”
“I’ll pick you up at eight from your place”
“Ok, see you then”. I put down the phone.
I would see the dame later but first I would go and speak to Lunette.I felt alive for the first time in months. I guess the prospect of danger and intrigue did that to me. An hour later, as the sun was setting over the ocean to the east, I walked along the beach towards Lunette's expansive white villa. The palms cast their sharp shadows across the sand. I could see his home in the distance. When I got there I had a sense that something was amiss. It was too quiet. Even the breeze seemed to have stopped. Usually there would be people outside sitting on the patio overlooking the beach, drinking and talking.I walked up to the back door and knocked. There was no answer.
I opened the door and called out “Jack are you there?" There was no reply. Then I heard the front door slam. I felt a shiver run down my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Something was definitely wrong, I could sense it and I had not brought my gun.
I walked slowly into Lunettes extravagant kitchen and listened. There was no sound. I picked up a large frying pan to use as a weapon. Then I walked into Lunettes vast and once comfortable sitting room, what I saw paralysed me and I started to retch. Lunette and his wife were sprawled across the floor bleeding out onto the thick red carpet. I noticed that smoke was still curling out of the ashtray on the glass coffee table.I heard the front door creak open. They had probably heard me call out.
A stocky gangster walked through the door at the opposite end of the room from me. I hurled the frying pan at him. It hit him in the face. Stunned for the moment he lay struggling to orientate himself. Then I had his arm that held a nasty looking sawn off shotgun pinned against the floor. He was stronger than me and he was then wrenching his gun from my grip. As he did this I pushed the barrel back towards him as hard as I could and then it went off in his face. I was spattered in gore. Then I stood up, swaying in shock. I heard the back door open. Slow cautious footsteps approached me from the kitchen. As the second gangster walked through the doorway I dived at the door and slammed it into him as hard as I could. When I looked round the door at him, he was unconscious. When I was sure there were not any more killers I called the cops.
Seeing Lunette and his wife like that did something to me. I was deeply affected by the brutality committed against these people. I swore an oath to myself that I would do everything within my power to find the people behind these bloody murders.Nearly every crime scène I have been to I have been there before the cops. I waited for fifteen minutes that seemed forever outside the front of the house.
I spent the rest of the evening telling the cops what happened. I had to repeat myself over and over again in a small stuffy interrogation room. When they were finally done with me it was midnight and I had to get a cab back to my place.I had let Scarlet down by not meeting her, but she would understand. The next day I called her. “Hi Scarlet”.
“Hi Jim. I thought I was going to see you last night. What happened?”
“I got caught up in something. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it”
“That’s alright. I was worried. Are you okay?”
I agreed to meet her that night and we went for a meal and a movie. Then we went back to my place. I needed her and the comfort she could give me, after what had happened the night before.We laid together in bed warm, relaxed, tired and close. I felt rejuvenated. She had healed my psychological wounds. She said, “Jim that was so good”
“I know. Scarlet you’re so lovely. Do you know that?”
“Thanks Jim. You know how to make a girl feel”.
I sat up and put two cigarettes in my mouth, lit them and handed her one. The tobacco tasted hot and coarsely sweet in my mouth. She lay against me, her golden hair flowing back across the pillow. I kissed her mouth and said, “Scarlet, a lot happened yesterday. I’m not going to be able to see you for a few days. I’m sorry but I have to find out what happened. I need to know why they killed Lunette and burned the hotel”.
“Okay Jim. I’m going to miss you.”
“ I’ll find you as soon as I’ve finished with this business”, I said.
I didn’t want to put her in danger. I had a feeling that I was being drawn into something messier and more dangerous than anything I had experienced before. The next morning when I awoke she was gone. I felt a pang of guilt for turning her away like that but it passed quickly as I started to think how I was going to find whoever was behind the Lunette killing.
Later that day I drove towards the centre of the city. The mid day sun beat down upon my car. The city was thriving and bustling with people, all enjoying the baking summer weather. I was driving towards a bar called The Blue Orchid. The guy who ran it, Sean Crawford was a friend of Lunette’s and I thought he might know something. I pulled into the parking lot, lit a cigarette and stepped out of the car.
The club was closed but a mountain of muscle with a face like broken egg opened the door. I said thanks as I walked past him into the cool bar and he glared at me brutishly. Crawford sat at the bar drinking a martini. He was a fat man of medium height with an air about him that said he would sell his soul for the right price. I walked up to the bar and he turned to me and said “James Hayden. How’s things detective?”
“Hello Crawford. Things aren’t too bad with me” I replied.
He turned back to the bar and his martini and said, ” I’m so sad about what happened to Lunette. He was one of my best friends you know. What is wrong with this world?”
“A lot's wrong with this world, Crawford”
“I just wish I’d known he was in trouble so I could have helped him".
He looked at me over his shoulder with a genuine sadness tainting his walnut eyes.
I told him I was going to find Lunette's killers and then I asked him if he had any useful information he could give me. He told me to follow him to his office. The office was a large room with red settees lining two walls. There was a mahogany desk in the middle of the room. He sat down behind it, opened a box, took out a cigar, clipped the end and lit it. He puffed it for a few moments tentatively. I ate the olive out of my martini. He said, “So you’re trying to find who did this?”
“That’s right. I was there just after they killed them”.
“Why stick your neck out?”
“I feel I owe it to him”
“Ill pay you some if that would help”
“It wouldn’t go amiss”.
“How about 100 a day. Does that sound good to you, Jim?”
“That sounds fine”.
I drank the last of my drink. It was stifling hot so I stood up and started the ceiling fan. I sat back down and lit a cigarette. The fan buzzed and whirred above my head. “So” I said “what can you tell me about Lunette?”
“What do you want to know?”
“Did he owe money to anyone?
“Not that I know of Jim. He might have owed a lot of people money”.
“Sure. Was he paying anyone for protection?"
“Jim, if I tell you don’t say it was me who told you. I don’t want any trouble ”
“For god sake Crawford, what do you take me for? You do your job and I'll do mine".
“Ok Jim, here it is. I believe he was paying Edward Stinson for protection”.
I pulled in near the Oceans Hotel. I was back by the sea. Stinson spent most of his time at the Oceans Hotel. He owned it along with a load of other hotels, clubs, bars, brothels and strip joints. Not to mention the narcotic operations he had up his sleeve. It was about time someone threw him back into the gutter he crawled out of.
I walked into the grand entrance hall and then through to the restaurant and bar. Some girls walked past me and I thought I recognised one of them from a movie. Stinson was sitting at a table with a group of friends. The girl who I thought was a movie star sat down at his table and so did the other girls who were with her.
I walked over. He was spooning bolognaise into the movie girls mouth when I said “Stinson, I need to speak to you”. He spilt the Bolognaise down the girls dress. He turned and looked at me calculatingly and said, “I have nothing to say to you Hayden, or any other private dick for that matter”.
“Well,” I replied, “ I am sure I won't have to look far to dig something juicy up on you".
“Go to hell,” he said.
I stubbed out my cigarette in his bolognaise.“ You’re a first class sleazebag Stinson. Do you know that?" I said.
Everybody at the table glared at me. Stinson got up and took a swing at me. I ducked the punch and grabbed him by the collar. Then I sent him sprawling across the table. He shouted some words I did not catch. I was too amused by his face covered in lasagne. Then some of his men grabbed me and dragged me out the back of the hotel. The big one held me while the small one punched me hard and fast. I could feel blood starting to trickle out of my face. They finished smashing me up and pushed me into some dustbins.
I went to see a friend of mine who happened to be a doctor. He patched me up all right. Then I drove back across town towards The Blue Orchid. I had a few things I still needed to discuss with Crawford.The club was thriving. There was a band playing on the stage. They were playing something rocky yet jazzy. A saxophone soared. People were dancing on the dance floor, enjoying the music. I walked up to the bar. A bar girl walked over to serve me. “Hello Hayden,” she said
“What happened to you?”
“I fell down the stairs,” I said
“I don’t believe you” she replied.
“That doesn’t matter. Get me a scotch on the rocks”.
She poured it and passed it across the bar.
She said, “You’re a funny guy Jim. I like you. Your not sleazy like most of the guys who come in here”
“Thanks Sally. Listen I came to see Crawford. Do you know where he is?”
“I thought you might have come to see me” she said. “He’s in the restroom. He should be out in a minute”.
She left me and went to serve someone else. I turned on the bar stool and watched the band play. They were good. The sax was excellent. There was a newspaper on a coffee table by a settee and I walked over and sat down. There was an article about the Lunette murder. I read it carefully. The gangster who I had knocked out had not said a word about who had employed him. He would get life behind bars if he was lucky.
My nose started to bleed again so I made my way to the restroom. I got some tissue and held it to my nose. Then I looked at my bruised face in the mirror. When I glanced across to the restroom doors. I saw a small trail of blood leaking from the one furthest from me. I walked over to it.“Crawford, are you in there?” I said.I moved quickly into the cubicle next to the one leaking blood and looked over into it. Crawford lay with his neck twisted. The garrotte that had strangled him clung to his neck cold and metallic in its deadliness.
I drove back across the dark glittering city. I needed a good healing sleep after a cruelly tiring day. I would be lucky to get any sleep though, after what I had just seen. I had left Crawford, what remained of him, with the downtown cops. I had no idea who did it and I wondered if I would ever find out who was behind the foul play. It was certain they had quite a bit of power. I put it out of my mind. When I got home and checked my answer phone messages. I found I had two new ones. The first was from scarlet.
She said, “Hi Jim. I hope you are ok. I just wanted to see how you were doing on the case. Give me a call when you can. Take care”.The second was not so friendly. It was a mans voice, cultured but threatening. “Hello mister Hayden. We understand you are poking around where you are not wanted. It would be a shame for you to end up like the others. You know whom I mean. Be very careful Hayden. If you do carry on with your investigations something may happen to a certain girl you are rather close to. I trust you will pay heed to my words and mind your own business. Goodbye mister Hayden”.