Here is the working title and first (roughly) 1667 words of what will probably be the fourth or fifth story in the Raymond Jaye series.
Most private investigators have an office with their name painted on frosted glass windows. At least the ones I grew up listening to did. I had a booth in a diner called Vickie’s Kitchen. I met clients there from time to time and the day I met Sheila Osten was no exception.
She walked in and looked around. Jen, the hostess pointed me out to her and she came over. She was a little over five and a half feet tall with light blonde hair that seemed to be made of spider silk. It was pulled back in a simple ponytail, but the few flyaway ends only showed if they caught the light just right. From the neck down, she wore a light tan sweater with a white shirt collar and similarly colored pants.
“Raymond Jaye?” she asked.
It always surprised me that people asked to make sure it was me. The odds of there being more than one guy with a hook for a left hand in and wearing a trench coat over a dark suit in a place like Vickie’s Kitchen would be remote to say the least. But the still ask, so I answer.
“Yes.” I’d slid out of the booth as she approached and was standing by the time she arrived. We shook hands and I waited for her slide into her side.
I started. “So, tell me about the case.”
She looked around, probably for prying ears. I had a deal with the diner. They sat me in the back corner when they could, and kept at least one table between me and any other diners. In return, I tipped too much. It was still cheaper than office rent. There was no one to hear.
“I own a bar. The Widow’s Retreat. It’s in a strip mall over on Mohr Street.”
I wrote it down. Clients like it when I write stuff down.
“I started it a few years ago with my, then, husband. A while ago I caught him on the security camera with one of the barmaids, on the bar. The divorce pushed through hard and fast. We split the money. He got the house and I took the bar. He’s still bitter about that.”
“He wanted the bar more than the house?”
“He’s a contractor. When we got the place, we leased four separate units and knocked out the walls. He did all the work on the remodel, then I ran it. He still thinks of it as his project even though he has no clue how to run it as a business.”
I was frowning. The two clichés about PI is that we either take divorce work to stay in cheap liquor, or we avoid it like a stripper with a cold sore. I swung more toward the latter, but not for the same reasons most others gave. “If the divorce is final, what exactly do you want me to do?”
“Last Saturday, a man came in. That was a little odd. When I took over the bar, we closed it down and changed it from a sports bar to a more female friendly place.”
“You turned his sports bar into a lesbian bar?” Maybe she wanted protection.
“Not really. I turned it into a woman’s bar. It’s a place for women to go and hang out and not have to worry about being hit on all the time. Well… less of the time. It’s well lit with no dark corners, and we’ve got all sorts of little perks that only women could really appreciate. Our clientele runs eighty to ninety percent female, and only about a third of those are there to meet other women. When a lone man walks in, it sends a feeling through the place. Like when a lone lion stumbles onto a watering hole surrounded by a herd of wildebeest. It’s clear he’s in the wrong place, and not really welcome, but as long as he doesn’t cause problems, he can stay.”
“You compare your patrons to wildebeests? Do they know that?”
“It’s the best example I could think of. A city slicker walking into an old west tavern isn’t the same thing, because he really doesn’t pose a threat to an individual. The lion does. When the prey is in control, the lion knows better than to attack. It’s the same thing at The Widow’s Retreat. Everyone is welcome, but not everyone is trusted.”
“I see. And what did this guy do?”
“He stepped on a shot glass and fell. When he fell, he landed on someone’s boot and may have cracked a rib. Now he’s talking like he wants to sue the bar.”
That was a hell of a build up for a flopper. “And what do you want me to do, exactly? I assume there were witnesses to the fall, and that there was glass on the floor.”
“Yes. The cameras don’t show whether he put it there or not, but that’s not what I want you for. I want you prove my ex-husband hired him to do it to drive up my insurance rates and force me to let him buy back in as a partner.”
I raised my brows. That was a twist I hadn’t seen coming. “You think this is something Mr. Osten-”
“Gerard. His name is Gerard. I gave it up when I cut ties with him.”
“You think this is something Mr. Gerard would do? It seems a little complex.”
“That’s the way his mind works. I was married to the ass for twenty one years. I know damn well what he’s capable of. I graduated high school pregnant. He went to college and got a degree in engineering. When Becky started school, I went and got a master’s in business administration. He planned it all out. By the time she started high school we had no stress about money and when he wanted to open the bar he said it would be good advertising for him, and a good project for me. It was all planned and it all worked.”
“Except the camera.”
“I never told him I had them put in. I was running the place on my own at that point.”
I looked over my notes. “How sure are you about this? It might take a while to find a connection between them, and even if I do, there may be no way to prove your ex hired him. Do you have anything that might be proof? Has your ex contacted you at all about it?”
She shook her head. “If I had proof I’d take it to him myself. He hasn’t said anything, but he wouldn’t. Not until he heard I was in a tight spot. Then he could ride in a save me.”
I considered the case, then I gave her my rates and expectations. She agreed and we signed a few papers, then we ordered lunch and discussed my plan of attack.
I followed her back to the bar, which was set into the center of a strip mall. The mall looked new, with a good coat of green paint that probably had a name like Dusty Sage, or Bleached Oregano, but that I would call light olive. The lower third of the walls were covered in flat, uneven rock slabs that ranged from fist to forearm sized. The windows were all dark tinted to keep the setting sun from starting everything in the place on fire in the afternoon. Total there were ten bays, but since the bar took up the middle four, there were three on each side of it. Only one of those had a tenant.
The Daily Scoop had a sign that reminded me of an old ice cream shop, even if the rest of the outside looked like an earth tone cave. It sat on the far right end as I faced it, and looking at the reflection I the dark glass that I noticed it sat on an angle to me.
The mall was built like a broad, flat V, like the symbol on a Cadillac. The bar had one door on either side of the point, and a line of cartoonish looking women in hunting outfits and sports uniforms, each with a veil, walked along the rock toward the doors.
The windows for the bar were just as dark as the other shops, but they were only a foot or so tall and set up next to the ceiling.
I expected the inside to be like most bars, dimly lit with the sound of a pool table or jukebox trickling in over muffled conversations. What I saw was a place nearly as well lit as the parking lot. The carpet was a deep green and spread out to booths against the walls. The booths were decorated to look like hedges, and had plans growing between them and the walls. The walls were painted to look like a park in the distance, with trees giving way to a light blue sky near the ceiling. The ceiling was also a light sky blue.
The floor of the place was filled with tables of different heights, each with a stool with an adjustable footrest and basket near the base. The baskets turned out to be things like bus station lockers, for shoes and purses.
On the left right side of the door was a cloak room with a closed sign hinging on it. On the right wall was the bar; a good, solid wood bar complete with brass foot rail and a row of padded stools.
The back wall had a stage on the left, a sliding patio door, the bathrooms, and an office beside the bar. Sheila led me to the office.
“You can use this to talk to the staff. It’s not soundproof, but it’s close.”
“It should be fine,” I said. I moved to a chair on the guest side of the desk and turned it to face the door. Then, I turned the other chair to face it and gave her a nod.