Name’s Smote, Joe Smote. Gumshoe, Private Detective… uh …. Personal Dick. No, wait; that’s not right. Let me start that again. Name’s Smote, gremlin in the city that sleeps too much… yeah, that’s better. Hold on. Is that thing still on? …. Okay, let’s start again. Name’s Smote; some call me gremlin, but only those that fear me. And they should fear me, for in this city that always sleeps, Joe Smote is the force of–
“Who you talking to Joe?”
“Sorry, what? Nobody, I’m, um? Writing up case notes. You know, to be professional?” Joe thought that sounded as close to believable as he could get it.
“Oh? Only it sounded like you were talking to yourself.”
“I don’t know what it sounded like to you, but it was the definite sound of me being professional.” Even Joe didn’t think this sounded likely. “What is it you want Gerard?”
“I just wanted to remind you that Harold and I have our fifteenth anniversary party this weekend.”
“Yes Gerard, I hadn’t forgotten.”
“Harold would really like it if you could be there – he’s making those salmon filled crepes you like.”
“I do love fishy crepes.”
“It’s not like it’ll be a huge affair or anything. Just about one-hundred of our closest friends; I’m sure it’ll be fun for you.” Gerard did his best to look reassuring. Despite what others said about Joe, he really liked him, and he was the best boss Gerard had ever had. This was no small honor; Gerard had worked for some really great bosses.
“I’ll be there Gerard, as I’ve told you every other time you’ve asked me this week.”
“Excellent, Harold will be so pleased. … You remember it’s this Saturday, right?”
“I do have a vague recollection of it being this Saturday. Just let me check …. Well, what do you know? My calendar remembers that it is exactly on Saturday. It has remembered it in ink, no less. See?”
Gerard let this slide, he rather enjoyed Joe’s sarcasm. But then a thought occurred to him: “Will you be bringing a plus one? Because plus ones are allowed … for you, especially. We even it underlined it on your invitation.”
“I’m not sure, I’ll have to see how it goes.”
“If you want, you could bring a plus two … if you can’t decide, that is.” This was a courtesy. Gerard knew that scratching up a plus one would be hard enough for Joe. Ever since Joe’s wife ran away with that dolphin trainer, Gerard had noticed Joe was extremely reluctant to engage in any activity that might lead to a fulfilling and happy relationship; this made both he and Harold worry for Joe’s emotional health.
“As I said Gerard, I’ll have to see how it goes. What I can promise, is that I will be there.”
Gerard made a sound that indicated his semi-reassurance as regarded Joe’s promise. Despite reassurances, he continued to hover silently in the doorway.
“You’re hovering Gerard. Is there something else?”
“Sorry, yes; thanks for reminding me – I was so distracted by my concern over your perennial dateless-ness, that I forgot to mention there’s a woman in reception that wants to see you. She has a case for us, I expect.”
“Given our line of work, I should think that very probable, yes. Well, send her in; let’s see what she has to say.”
Just as Gerard disappeared, Joe was struck by an idea: “Wait, Gerard!”
Gerard’s head reappeared, floating – as if disembodied – just over the edge of the door frame. “Yeah, Joe?”
“This woman? She doesn’t, by any chance, have the dangerous serpentine seduction of a camouflaged viper in an orchard of dreams?
“I have no idea what you just asked me.”
Joe wasn’t sure what he’d asked, either. “Ummm? I mean, is she attractive?”
Gerard, looked puzzled. “I guess so, she sort of has the wrong ‘equipment’ for me to pay too much attention…. Ah, I see! Sorry Joe, she has plans for Saturday, I already checked on your behalf. Shall I send her in now?”
“Yeah,” Joe replied, wishing that Gerard would stop trying to get him romantically entangled with potential clients, “that would be great.”
As I sat there, waiting, a cold feeling came over me. The kind of feeling a man gets when a specter walks jackbooted over his grave. Who was this mysterious woman that may, or may not, be viperously seductive in a dream orchard?
Joe looked up, thrown off balance, once again, by an interruption he really should have known was coming. He scrambled for a reply that would make him seem composed: “I was just writing up case notes, because that’s the sort of thing I have to do.” Joe thought that it might be time to start making a written list of more varied excuses for when this sort of thing happened to him.
“Don’t you mean dictating case notes? I’m no expert, but it’s my understanding that people don’t generally speak out loud when they write.”
“Yes, that does sound better.” Joe switched off the recorder and looked for some scrap paper to write that down. “How can help you Miss…?”
“Gridlock, but please call me Amy; almost nobody ever does, but I’m sure I’d really enjoy if I they did.” Amy smiled in a way that suggested she found her statement amusing.”
“Okay… Amy, how can I help you?”
Amy moved from the doorway into Joe’s office and took a seat opposite his desk. As she did, Joe noticed that her movements were in no way seductively serpentine; he made a mental note about it for future reference. Then, recalling his recent difficulties in the mental note department, he made a physical note instead; he used the same paper that he had started compiling his ‘excuse’ list on. Reflecting on this later, Joe would come to the conclusion he should have written that observation down on a different piece of paper.
“Tell me,” Amy began, “what do you know about the owner of Sans Conglomerate?”
“Orson Jimson? Not a lot, only that he is obscenely wealthy. Why?” Joe was only pretending he didn’t know why he was being asked. A list he had started some time ago indicated that this form of question was a standard reference to who the real client was going to be.”
After all, this was not my first burnt meat party.
“Excuse me?” Amy looked confused.
“Burnt meat party. Isn’t that line from a Sans Conglomerate ad jingle? You know, the one that promotes a new line of barbeques?”
“I’ve never heard of that ad, and besides, Sans Conglomerate is a shipping cartel.”
“My mistake, please continue.”
Amy gave Joe an uncertain look. Perhaps Joe Smote was not the right man for this Job. But, as her boss had insisted that she hire him, she continued anyway. “The reason I asked, is that I’m Mr. Jimson’s executive assistant; he’s hoping we can secure your services to resolve a… sensitive matter. Would you be interested in accepting such a commission? You would be well paid, of course.”
“I might be interested, and I’m famous for being a sensitive man, but I’d have to know more about the nature of this commission before I could commit to it. What can you tell me?”
“I can’t tell you anything about it.”
Amy shifted uncomfortably in her chair, a look of concern clouded her non-viperish face. It was as though she were wrestling with some math proof that was just beyond her mental agility. She sighed, and said: “The truth is I can’t tell you anything about it, because I have no idea myself.”
“That doesn’t sound normal,” Joe responded, “I’m not much up to speed with how other private investigators work, but I generally require information before I sign on. To be frank, your lack of any details about this sensitive matter – as you put it – tends to wind up the claxons of my mental alarm system.”
“I understand, really. I suggested as much to Mr. Jimson when he tasked me with hiring you. But you don’t know him, he’s a very forceful individual, and I don’t like to push my luck. Look, all I can tell you is what he told me: hire Joe Smote at any price he asks for.”
“At any price, you say?” Joe made a mental move into a soundproofed room that deadened the sirens screaming in his head. “In the interests of being upfront, I have to tell you that the price is going to be extreme. It’s standard procedure when we take on work where no initial information is given.”
“Triple my normal rate, plus expenses.”
“And how much is that?”
“It’s… actually, I’m not sure. You’ll have to check with Gerard out front; he’s responsible for running that side of the business. Anyway, those are my terms.”
“Okay Mr. Smote, we have an accord.”
“Really?” Joe was surprised, he’d expected more of a song and dance about this. In truth, he was a bit disappointed: he rather enjoyed the ‘sing and haggle tango’. “Alright then, when do you want me to start?”
“Come by Mr. Jimson’s penthouse on Saturday evening, he’ll want to get you up to speed himself.”
“Fishy Crepes, Joe…” It was Gerard’s not so subtle reminder of a previously inked in promise floating through his office door.
“Ummm, I can’t do Saturday,” Joe’s face had gone a soft shade of scarlet, “I have an engagement with an… uh? …. Existing client.”
“Alright, Sunday evening then; I’ll leave the address and relevant contact info with your business manager.”
“Sunday?” Joe was trying to find a way to convince Miss Gridlock that Sunday was no good either. But, since the best he could come up with was that Sunday was the day he conducted research into Hawaiian detectives who drove Ferraris, he decided to agree.
After Miss Gridlock had left, Gerard appeared in his doorway again; he was grinning like the grim reaper who’d just learned he had only one more soul to collect before Friday drinks.
“You hear that Joe? I’m your bussiness manager.”
END OF CHAPTER 1