Finding Sophie

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful
A Noir detective tale with a twist..

Submitted: May 08, 2019

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Submitted: May 08, 2019

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It was still only the first of November and all the Halloween decorations had vanished from the windows as if by magic. The shop workers were already busy replacing them with Christmas decorations. Kevin Clancy sat behind the old office desk and stared at the rivulets of rain running down the grimy window pane. The season of goodwill was just around the corner and he had little doubt he would be busy; it never ceased to amaze him how quickly the feel good factor fizzled out when the celebrations were winding down. The season of goodwill had a disturbing habit of quickly becoming the new year of ill will.

A lot of his income came from divorce work, and Christmas seemed to really get this side of his business into high gear. So much for the glamorous life style of a P.I., mind you Kevin tried not to dwell on the fact that he earned his shekels from the misery of others. It was still only late afternoon but it was already dark, the only illumination in the office came from the red neon sign on the Chinese restaurant opposite on the narrow side street. Kevin sat there in the eerie neon glow and debated whether he would close up early and head to Flanagan’s bar, mind you he did not debate the mater too much  as it was already a foregone conclusion.

Flanagan’s was quiet, just the way he liked it, and his usual seat at the corner of the bar was empty and waiting for him. The young guy behind the bar looked up from the glass he was polishing and nodded at Kevin, two minutes later a large Jameson Irish whiskey was sitting on the bar in front of him. The radio playing softly in the background finished “Love is a many splendored thing” and Kevin smirked at the irony of it, then a spot commercial came on for the latest Hudson car. When the news came on the bartender turned the volume down, Flanagan’s was an oasis from the world outside and the news was not highly sought after here. This was strictly an old fashioned drinking pub, and that is why he came here.

The wind had gotten up while he sat at the bar, and when he stepped outside the driving rain stung his face. He clasped the lapels of his overcoat tight beneath his chin and used his other hand to keep the fedora hat in place; then bowing his head he started for home. Kevin walked straight into the side of the car that had pulled in front of him; the initial shock quickly gave way to anger. The interior of the dark Bentley R-type continental was dark but he could feel eyes on him, he was about to walk around the car when the window rolled down. The woman’s voice was softly accented as she called him by his surname. “Would you have a moment to spare Mr Clancy, I have a proposition for you?”

His first instinct was to turn on his heels and head back to the bar, the anger over being ambushed like this, threatened to boil to the surface. “Please Mr Clancy” something in the woman’s voice stopped him from walking away, but he was still too angry to climb into the car when the woman opened the passenger door. “Come to the office in the morning and we will talk”. The words came out even sharper than he had intended, however the woman meekly closed the passenger door and spoke softly. “Yes I will Mr Clancy and I hope you will be able to help me” for a moment Kevin half expected her to start crying. However she just rolled up the window and started the engine, he watched her drive away in that expensive car and a strange feeling settled over him.

Kevin had barely finished hanging up his coat and hat when he heard the sound of footsteps on the bare wood of the stairs, whoever was calling to the office this early must have been waiting outside and saw him arrive. The steps had reached the landing outside his office now and suddenly stalled, Kevin could almost feel the hesitance of whoever was outside. The old clock on the wall ticked away the seconds, and he was reminded of a scene from a western movie he had once seen. The footsteps resumed again and the person stopped outside the door, the silhouette through the frosted glass showed the shape of a woman’s hat. Before his visitor could even knock, he told her to come in.

The lady was dressed in black and wore a hat with a black lace veil; the outfit she wore accentuated her attractive figure. It only then dawned on him that he had told the lady from last night to call to the office today; he gestured to the empty chair opposite and watched the hypnotic sway of her hips as she crossed the short distance. The woman sat down and the sound of her nylons rubbing together when she crossed her legs, somehow reminded him of a past lover. When she lifted the veil his breath caught in his chest, she was a real beauty in her mid to late twenties he guessed. Too young to be a widow he thought, and wondered why she wore the black veil. The rouge lipstick was a stark contrast to her pale complexion, and he found himself staring at her sensual lips. This unsettled him as he felt like a silly teenager, but if she noticed his awkwardness she gave no hint of it. Kevin finally found his tongue, “What can I do for you mam?”

The beautiful woman took her time in answering, all the while her dark eyes held his gaze. For some unknown reason Kevin felt as if he was in a witness box, it seemed as if she was trying to delve inside his mind. “I am sorry about last night Mr Clancy; I do not make a habit of waylaying strange men on their way home. It is just I am afraid I was a bit emotional last night, when I found your office closed I did not know what to do. I drove around the block aimlessly for quite a while, when I did see you leaving the bar I am afraid I was not thinking straight. Can we start again please, my name is Tanya and I would like to employ your services”. She offered her hand across the desk, it was small and dainty and her nail polish was the same colour as her lipstick. Kevin shook her hand and was mildly surprised at how cold it was and how strong her grip was. Something about this woman played on his mind but he could not quite figure out what it was.

The subtle scent of her perfume as he leaned over to light her cigarette, told him this lady was familiar with the finer things in life. Everything about her oozed class and privilege, and Kevin could not help wondering what had brought her downtown to his office. People of her ilk could hire the top detective agencies in the city, yet she had made her way to China town in search of him. Tanya took a drag from the cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke that floated over her head like a halo, yet a little voice at the back of his mind told Kevin she was no angel. Something deep in those dark eyes of hers spelled danger, Kevin settled back in his chair and waited for her to speak. When she did speak those dark eyes suddenly had a faraway look in them, and her words seemed to be spoken more to herself than anyone else.

“I have come to you Mr Clancy in the hope that you can help me to locate my sister, I am afraid the last time we met things got a little tense between us. You see we did not part on good terms and now I regret it, she is the only real family I have left.” Tanya paused to crush out her cigarette in the ashtray, their eyes met as she leaned across toward the ashtray and Kevin saw the tears in those eyes. For a split second he wanted to get up and go around the desk to hug her, but just as soon as the sorrow showed in her eyes it was gone. It was as if her eyes had soaked back those tears, that faraway look returned as if she was seeing something far from this office. Kevin was grateful now that he had not acted on the urge to hug her, but he still felt like a foolish adolescent boy.

Tanya sat in silence again for what seemed an eternity; Kevin wondered whether she had changed her mind about coming here. The she asked him a strange question that caught him unawares, Tanya asked him if he had ever lost someone he really loved. Kevin suddenly found himself groping in the darkness for an answer, and to his own amazement he could not think of anyone he could truly say he loved. Luckily the question seemed to have been rhetorical. Kevin also got the feeling that even if he had answered, she would either have not heard him or would have had no interest in the answer. Tanya began to speak again and her mind appeared to have drifted back to the time she spoke of.

Her sister’s name was Sophie and the last time Tanya had set eyes on her was eleven years previous, Tanya was fifteen at the time and her sister was two years older. They had been orphaned when they were both young, and had been raised in London by their maiden aunt. Their aunt was a woman of means, and had old fashioned ideas on how the girls should behave. Tanya and Sophie had quarreled bitterly over Sophie’s plan to run away to America, she wanted to pursue her dream to be a movie actress. Tanya had called her a selfish self-centered human being. Sophie had walked out slamming the door and Tanya had not seen or heard from her since. Tanya told him how she had always regretted that night, and since her aunt had died last year leaving her independently wealthy. She had decided to come over to try and find her sister.

All the while she spoke Tanya stared into space, as if watching the events of that night unfold all over again. While she told her story Kevin never took his eyes off her beautiful features, something about the way she spoke and her looks had him enamored. It was only after she left his office that he finally came to his senses; he could not believe that he had agreed to take on her case. It would have been obvious to a child that something about this whole thing was strange, yet here he was having blindly agreed to work for her without asking the questions that cried out to be answered. The top most of these questions should have been why me? It was not as if the powerful and wealthy were beating down his door looking to employ him.

 The picture of Sophie showed another stunning woman, well at least a stunning teenage girl. Kevin held the photograph under his nose, and inhaled the scent of Tanya’s perfume that lingered on the print. A little voice at the back of his mind scolded him for behaving like a besotted teenager, but foolish as it was, he realized in the brief time he had spent with her he was besotted. Kevin lit a cigarette and turned his chair in the direction of the window, the grimy window pane was a stark reminder of the life he led. Organized chaos sprang to mind; he had stumbled from relationship to relationship, yet still found himself alone looking through a grimy window pane at the world passing him by. That question she had asked him played a loop in his head, and it somehow disturbed him that he was unable to think of a single person he could truly say he loved.

The agent took what could only be described as a cursory glance at the photograph, before shaking his head and handing the photograph back. In this town film agents were as plentiful as rats in a sewer, and more than a few were just as unsavory as those rodents. The whole city was a magnet for young girls who believed they would be the next queen of the silver screen. Foolish little girls who dreamed of being the next Grace Kelly, and there was more than enough men willing to take advantage of their foolishness.

 Kevin knew before he started that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but to his own embarrassment he realized he desperately needed to impress Tanya. So he got into his car and went from one dodgy agency to the next, but beautiful as Sophie was, she was just one out of the thousands of beautiful young girls that sacrificed themselves on the altar in search of fame.

Kevin had visited almost every low end talent agent he knew of but to no avail, some like the first one barley even looked at the photo and others genuinely tried to remember if she had crossed their threshold. But in the end he got the same gesture as an answer, a shake of the head or a shrug of the shoulders. By mid-afternoon he was tired and hungry and pulled into a diner, it was busy in the eatery but he found an empty booth in the back by the jukebox. Bill Haley blasted out rock around the clock as he studied the menu, the walls were adorned with the top starlets of the decade and Grace Kelly smiled down at him from the wall.

 The woman that took his order was somewhere in her thirties, she would have been a real looker in her earlier days. But this town had a habit of taking beautiful young women and wringing them out, her looks had faded but the real difference was in her eyes, they held nothing now, but a cynical view of life. Kevin watched her wait the tables as he ate, and he wondered if she too had come here with the hopes of stardom. The woman came back to clear the table and for some unknown reason he showed her the photograph, he had no idea why he did this but he asked her if she had ever seen this girl. The woman hesitated for a moment and the cynicism in her eyes intensified as she stared at him, but then with a bored expression she took the photograph and held it in front of her eyes.

The change in her expression was subtle at first, but the longer she stared at the photograph the more pronounced the surprise became on her features. Surprise was probably not even the right description of her expression; it was more a look of regret and sadness. Before Kevin could ask her again someone at a nearby table called her, the woman handed back the photograph with a shrug of her shoulders. In an instant she had managed to return her expression to one of bored indifference, but Kevin knew he had touched a nerve with her when he showed her the picture.

 Back in his car he settled down to wait, he was not sure what time her shift finished but he intended to be there when it did. Something told him that this woman had recognized Sophie’s photograph, now it may have been, that photograph just reminded her of someone, but it was the first time that day he had felt he was not wasting his time. Kevin took another hit from the hip flask, and was just returning it to the glove compartment when he spotted her. She came around the side of the diner and stopped to light a cigarette, she looked tired and worn out.

 Kevin wondered if this was part of her dream when she came to this town first, he watched as she slipped her foot from her shoe and bent to massage her toes. Then she walked wearily in the direction of the bus stop, and he started the engine and followed. When he pulled in alongside her, she reached inside her purse and pulled out something that glinted in the street lights. By the time he had rolled down the window she had the knife pointed in his direction. “It’s okay honey, it’s just about the photograph I showed you earlier”. Kevin did his best to make his tone of voice sound friendly, the fear in her eyes faded and was replaced with an exhausted look. Eventually she put the blade back in her purse, Kevin opened the passenger door and she reluctantly climbed in.

The waitress was called Margret and she lived in small apartment in downtown, the building itself looked run down, however the apartment was clean but Spartan. Kevin had been surprised when she asked him in, but then again he supposed she was just too tired to even care now. They sat in the tiny kitchen and sipped cheap whiskey, as Margret told her story. It was the same story that had been told thousands of times before; she had left a small town with stars in her eyes. But the nearest she had gotten to a movie set, was on the odd occasion when she had earned enough tips to go to the movies. Her evenings were spent waiting tables in the beginning, and her days were spent dragging her weary body from one seedy agency to the next. Then as her looks faded and her dreams disappeared Margret just waited tables.

Margret asked for another look at the photograph, this time she did not even bother to hide the fact that she recognized Sophie. They had met a few years back and were close for a while, back then they shared the same dreams. They worked the same dead end jobs and followed the same dream that was until Margret just got too tired and disillusioned. They had parted ways then, and Sophie went her own way to follow that rainbow.

 Kevin had a sinking feeling that this particular lead was stone cold, but then Margaret said something that raised his hopes again. “It is a strange coincidence that you came into the diner looking for her now; I had not seen her or thought of her for years. That was until last week when I saw her again; I do a bit of cleaning work uptown on my days off. I was coming out of a building I had been working in and I saw Sophie get out of a fancy car, she looked like she was doing really well for herself. Big car and fancy clothes, and she was with an older guy that looked like money, he took her into a fancy restaurant”.

Margaret took one last look at the photograph, and then with a wistful smile she handed it back. Kevin left the waitress sitting at the kitchen table; she was sipping cheap whiskey in a haze of cigarette smoke. Her eyes staring at something far beyond those walls, he thanked her for her help but it was as if she had not heard him. Perhaps his visit had reawakened those dreams she had brought here with her, dreams that would never be fulfilled now. Outside in the car he made a quick note of the address of that restaurant; he contemplated ringing Tanya to tell her the news but decided against it until he looked into it further. The radio came on when he started the engine; Fats Domino crooned “Ain’t That a Shame” and Kevin thought of the woman he had just left.

The Silver Screen restaurant was certainly posh; the host eyed Kevin up and down as if he had just crawled out of a trash can. Obviously the man consider him as an unsuitable client for this establishment, even when Kevin tried to slip him twenty dollars to look at the photograph, the man looked at him with disdain. Any guy that was willing to turn his nose up at a twenty dollar bill had far too much loyalty to his job. For a moment Kevin had the urge to take the brass knuckles from his coat pocket and crack a few of the guy’s ribs, but all that would have achieved was to get him locked up for the night. So in the end he satisfied himself with the terrified expression on the other man’s face, when he made a gun shape with his finger and pointed it at the host’s head. Outside the restaurant even that small victory seemed hollow, he still needed to find out where Sophie was and this was his only lead.

Kevin went across the street and bought a pack of Luck Strikes and the daily newspaper, he had decided to sit in the car and watch the restaurant for a while. He would have a look at the paper until customers began to arrive, he just may get lucky and Sophie might arrive. Kevin soon became bored with the paper; it was filled with ads for women’s clothes and tobacco. He was just about to dump it when something caught his eye; it was in the social section and was a series of photographs of customers posing outside the Silver Screen restaurant. Apparently the restaurant was so posh it had gotten a write up in the paper, the pictures were accredited to a freelance photographer and Kevin just happened to know him.

Shaun Collins was in his late fifties and had worked as a freelance photographer for over thirty years; Kevin had met him at countless crime scenes back when Kevin was in the force. All in all, Shaun was a decent guy just trying to make a few bucks with the only skill he possessed, Kevin had cut him a little slack over the years and allowed him get some good shots. So when it came to calling in the favor Kevin had no hesitation, and Shaun seemed glad to oblige.

 The photographer positioned the photograph of Sophie on the coffee table, and began painstakingly going through a box of negatives. Every now and again he would compare one to the photograph, eventually he found one that he thought was a match. Kevin nipped outside for a smoke while Shaun worked in his dark room, twenty minutes later Shaun called him in.

The years had been more than good to Sophie, if anything she was even more beautiful than she had been at seventeen. A stark contrast to her old friend Margret, this fact probably accounted for the waitress’s wistful smile that night in her kitchen. The man standing with Sophie looked to be in his early sixties, and Margaret had been right he had the look of money about him.

 But Shaun had another surprise for him; he had the whole background on the man.  Right down to what he did for a living, and where he and his wife Sophie lived. His name was Ross Franklin and he was a high flying fancier, Sophie was his third wife and they had married four years prior to that night the photo was taken. Shaun left the room and returned with a scrap book he kept on people he had photographed, he had really done his homework on this. Sophie lived in a mansion in the hills where she spent a lot of time alone while her husband traveled abroad on business. For once in his life Kevin felt like he had got lucky, Shaun even had her address on file.

Kevin drove out into the hills in search of Sophie’s home; he wanted to make sure he had all the information before he contacted Tanya. He finally found the place he was looking for on a prime site overlooking the city; parked outside the big wrought iron gates he could see the mansion above him. There was no mistaking the fact that Sophie had married into money, the house was more like a small hotel than an ordinary dwelling house.

 Acting on impulse Kevin got out of the car and pushed the intercom button, a ringing sound came from the speaker but no one appeared to be home. Kevin sat in the car and waited until it got dark but nobody came or went from the big house. In the end he decided to drive back to the city, it was time for him to share his findings with his employer. On the drive back he was amazed at how excited he felt about seeing Tanya again, a little voice at the back of his mind scolded him for his foolishness but he did his best to ignore it.

The beautiful woman sat across the desk from him, and showed not one iota of emotion when he told her he had located her sister. Kevin was flabbergasted at her behavior, and for one moment he wondered if she had even heard what he had said. The ice queen sitting opposite him bore no resemblance whatsoever to the emotional woman, that had asked for his help only a few days previous to this. He was not sure what reaction he had expected from Tanya, but it was certainly not the reaction he was seeing now.

 She took the piece of paper bearing Sophie’s address from his hand, and placed it in her purse without even looking at it. Then she withdrew an envelope and slid it across the desk, Kevin looked from the thick envelope to her expressionless face. The danger he had sensed in those dark eyes seemed more evident now. “Thank you for your help Mr Clancy, there is two thousand dollars in the envelope that should cover your fee and leave a little bonus for you”.

Before he could even speak she was on her feet and walking away, Tanya paused at the doorway and gave a curt nod then she was gone. Kevin found himself sitting there staring at the closed office door, wondering what kind of a Jekyll and Hyde scenario he had wandered into. For some reason he felt violated, and that little voice in his head reminded him how foolish he had been. He got to his feet and watched her through the window as she climbed into that fancy car, and the feeling of foolishness was rapidly turning into anger. Whether that anger was towards him, for behaving like a love struck teenager, or towards her for being dismissive towards him, he could not say. All he did know was that he was angry and he so badly wanted to confront Tanya about it.

 When she drove away he sat back behind the desk, and took the whiskey bottle from the bottom drawer. A couple of large glasses later he had formed a plan, he had no idea where Tanya was staying but he knew where she would eventually turn up. Before he left the office Kevin unlocked the filling cabinet and took the switchblade and placed in his coat pocket, if he was in a better state of mind he may have questioned his reason for this.

Kevin parked the old Hudson Hornet on a forest road that gave him a view of the entrance to Sophie’s house, he could not shake the angry feeling at the way Tanya had treated him. It was not long before he opened the glove compartment and retrieved the hip flask, he had intended to take just a few sips to calm him. But before Kevin even realised it he had finished the contents, it was dark when he awoke from a dream of beautiful women and blood. The big wrought Iron gates were open, and lights blazed in the windows of the big house. His head felt muzzy, but he was determined to find out exactly what was the story with these sisters.

 Kevin made his way on foot up the winding avenue that led to the big house, a feeling of apprehension suddenly settled over him and he drew the switch blade from his pocket. The front door like the wrought iron gates was wide open; he found this peculiar as there was no sign of a car outside. The reception area of the house was adorned with marble statues, and had all the trappings of wealth and prestige. An eerie silence pervaded the place as he moved further into the house; he had a bad feeling about this whole thing.

The third door he tried opened into a living room, the television played a rerun of “I love Lucy” but the volume was muted. It was here he found Sophie lying on her back in a pool of her own blood; the expensive gown she wore had a number of holes in the front where a knife had entered. One look at her glazed eyes told him she was past any help, but nevertheless he knelt beside her to feel for any signs of life. It was just then that something collided with the side of his head, and everything went black.

The speaker in the corner of the assembly hall played a seasonal song, apparently someone in the outside world was dreaming of a white Christmas. Kevin Clancy sat with his back to the wall smoking, when he finally got the call he jumped to his feet. The man in the uniform led him to a small drab room, the only visitor he got these days sat at the old table waiting for him. One look at the man’s expression told Kevin he had not brought good news, his attorney gestured for him to take a seat before handing him the file.

 It did not make for pleasant reading; the District Attorney was pushing for a murder one count. Not one other soul had set eyes on the woman called Tanya, but a large number of witnesses had come forward to say how Kevin was looking for Sophie. That and the fact the host at the silver screen restaurant, had lodged an official complaint about Kevin’s threatening behaviour did not augur well for his defense.  Back in the assembly hall the Christmas music continued to play, but there was to be no goodwill for Kevin Clancy this season.

 

 

 


© Copyright 2019 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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