dame walked into my life through the smoked glass door, all long legs and
cascading copper curls. She slunk forward like a great cat on four-inch heels,
a full-length fox coat thrown over one shoulder. Enough ice encircled her neck
and dripped from her earlobes to fund a small country. There was money
somewhere behind that three piece suit—not too far behind either. I wondered
what had brought her to my dingy office.
Sebastian Pool?” she asked, her voice warm honey with a whiskey burr.
Who's asking?” I swung around in my chair, hands clasped behind my head.
name is Clarissa Montaine. I would like to hire you.”
sapphire eyes narrowed. “I need you to kill a man.”
caught my attention. “I'm a private dick, not a hit-man.”
make it worth your while.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a roll that
would choke a horse.
feet hit the floor with a thud. “You've got my attention.”
ever hear of Simon Barstow?” She tossed the cash on my desk.
industrialist? That's who you want me to kill?”
you do it?”
picked up the wad and began to count it. There were more hundreds than twenties
in the roll. I had reached two thousand bucks and not even made a dent. “Why do
you want him dead?”
my husband. Or, he was. He's filed for divorce and I can't have that.”
not? A pretty dame like you will find somebody else.”
dropped the coat to the ground, stalking away like a panther on those deadly
heels. They clicked like nails driven into the hardwood floor. At the door, she
spun to face me, chest heaving like an agitated ocean. “I don't want someone
else,” she hissed. “I want what is mine. If he divorces me, I lose everything.
All the money, the prestige, the house. But if he dies before it's final, I’ll
get it all.”
he have a kid or two from another marriage?”
can deal with them. Nigel wants to take his father's place—in every sense of
the word—and the girls are easily swayed teenagers who just want to find rich
husbands of their own.”
was cold as ice, this broad. I felt chilblains coming on just being in the same
room with her.
thought this out, I see.”
all I think about.”
did you come to my door? There are plenty of PIs in Chicago.”
heard you didn't look too hard into where the money comes from.”
I can't say that I do. But I also don't usually go around icing innocent
she growled, fumbling with the buttons of her blouse. “Would an 'innocent' man
do this?” She ripped aside the silk and showed me several fist shaped bruises
on her creamy skin. “He is always very careful about the face, but anywhere
else is fair game.”
frowned. This changed things. I didn't hold with killing no innocents, but I
sure didn't believe in hitting a lady either. Seemed like the old man just
might deserve anything he got.
hit anyone else?”
seen him smack Nigel around a time or two. He's been smart enough to keep his
hands off the girls, but I don't know how long that will last. There's a
ticking time bomb in that house.”
don't you think you'd be better off out of there, even if you did lose the
eyes blazed. “I've earned every penny of it and I'm not giving it up.”
so you said. Okay, so suppose I decided to do this thing for you...where and
when would you want it done?”
do have a gun, right?”
pulled my .38 out of the desk drawer. “Will this do?”
smile bloomed across her face, like the sun rising. “That'll do just fine.”
spent another hour going over her plan in detail. Over and over, ad nauseum. Guess she figured a guy like
me was too stupid to get it the first time. But I tweaked to it right away. It
wasn't as if it were terribly complicated. It was one of the oldest stories in
the book. Girl wants boy, girl gets boy, girl wants to lose boy without losing
all the benefits that came with boy. Girl hires hit-man. Bada-bing, bada-boom...
would get Barstow down to a nightclub of my acquaintance in a seedy part of
town. How she did that wasn't my concern.
be waiting outside in the alley with my hat pulled low and the .38. He'd never
know what hit him—and in that part of town, no one else was likely to raise an
eyebrow over it. Wrong place, wrong time... gee, what a shame.
set the time for that evening. No need to pussyfoot around now that the plan
was in motion. So, I grabbed an early dinner at the Third Street Diner and was
crouched behind a refuse bin in the alley by seven.
had promised to have the old man there by nine. Better safe than sorry, I
always say, so I was there early. Chain-smoking my thoughts into some sort of
order. And what I kept coming back to was - what a horrible idea this was.
the woman had given me ten thousand dollars—which wasn't too shabby. I'd
finally gotten around to counting it all when she left. But hating her husband
was no good reason to kill him. The longer I squatted behind the spoiled
vegetables and rotten meat the more convinced I was of that fact.
when at last I heard the sound of footsteps heading my
way, I’d made up my mind about the situation. I knew something had to be done.
If not, she'd never get off my back. It just might not be what she was
wove into view, clinging to the arm of a handsome gent about fifteen to twenty
years older than she was. It had to be Barstow.
had left behind the three piece suit for clinging chiffon, but she still wore
the fox, and... if anything... more ice than before.
was trying to hold her upright but she staggered along. I was pretty sure most
of her stumbling was an act. Even in the dim light provided by the single
streetlight on the corner I could see that he was being most solicitous. He was
also six inches shorter than her and looked so fragile that a strong wind would
blow him away. Somehow, the beating story was losing more and more of its
credibility the closer they got.
outside the mouth of the alley, they stopped and I saw the flare of a match
illuminate her profile as he lit a cigarette for her.
don't know why you insisted on coming down here, Clarissa. It's a bad
neighborhood even in daylight.”
never want to have any fun,” she answered and I could hear the pout I couldn't
see. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
think I left it in my other suit,” Barstow replied wryly.
bit the inside of my lip to keep from chuckling. Good comeback for an old guy.
you thought about what I said?” she asked, her voice sharp and hard.
can't beggar my family, Clarissa. I think the settlement I've offered you is
more than adequate. After all, the divorce was your idea.”
drew my breath through my teeth with a hiss. So, the dame had lied to me.
saw her glance toward the alleyway—no doubt wondering if I had overheard. Well
might she wonder. This news changed everything for sure. My resolve solidified.
Any feelings I might have had for Clarissa froze.
hadn't been too keen on icing the man in the first place, but he seemed like an
upstanding guy who wanted to look out for his kids in the face of a greedy
gold-digger. I pulled the .38 out of my pocket and steadied it across my
I didn't do something right here, right now, the bitch
would only try again with some other poor sap. Barstow deserved better.
put a bullet between her eyes.
went down like a sack of bricks.
can come out of the shadows now,” Barstow called softly, his voice steady as a
judge. “I was expecting something of the sort when she persuaded me down
here... but, I rather expected the bullet would be for me.”
was supposed to be,” I answered, keeping the gun trained—just in case. “She
paid me good money to ice you tonight.”
changed your mind?”
answer me one question... did you ever hit her?”
her? God, no. I would never hit a lady.”
think so. Though she allowed that you did. Your son too, she said.”
He's been at boarding school since before I met Clarissa.”
about the girls?”
girls?” His voice was honestly puzzled.
you have two teenage daughters?”
Nigel is an only child. He's fifteen.”
had made the whole thing up. Played my emotions like a fiddle. Damn it. I'd
believed every word out of her lying mouth.
don't know what she told you, sir—or what she paid you—but you’re welcome to
keep it. I won't come looking for you. However, if I were you, I'd get the hell
out of here before someone reports that gunshot.”
snorted. “In this neighborhood, I doubt anyone noticed. What will you tell the
truth. Some unknown assailant gunned down my wife before I could stop him.”
faded down the alley and took to my heels. Barstow seemed like a straight-up
guy, but I wasn't pushing my luck.