Please enjoy this silly short story. Every once something will happen, and I'll get an itch to write one. Best read as a voice over to a film noir. Loosely based on actual events :)
My eyes shot open to the piercing ring of an old telephone. I wasn't that old, but I was old enough to know that the ringtone captured the actual ring of an old rotary pretty well. It even had that faint ringing that persisted between rings. It was a shrill assault. But that's why I liked it. I was a private eye.
It was morning, and I caught an 11 on the clock as my body twisted in the cold bed to silence the noisy assailant. I was late. Again. Which meant I knew who would be calling. It would be Denise, and she would be angry. As I turned the phone over in my hand I silenced it and brought the screen close to my face. It was Denise. I sat up in bed and winced at old pains as I prepared to endure the new one in my hand. I pressed "Talk."
I wasn't prepared for what was coming out of the phone, so it took me a second to adjust. She wasn't yelling, but she was taking fast, and there was a lot of background noise.
"--rice! pep--- ---overs ref--- bottom!"
I don't like it when people call me when they can't talk.
"Denise, I can't hear--"
"It's--- red top-- wit--- bottom shelf."
"Denise, call me ba--"
"Can't-- need-- --Got it?"
"Denise! I can barely--"
"Red top, bottom shelf."
What the hell?
It wasn't like her to skip an opportunity to yell at me. Denise didn't sound like she was in the office. She didn't even sound like Denise. What the hell was she talking about? Women.
The cold shower woke me up quickly. It always did. I stopped taking hot showers about two years ago. Ever since our hot water heater was stolen. Who the hell steals a hot water heater?
My stomach groaned as I finished dressing. It was empty, but that's not why it protested. It objected to the thought of yet another pot of bland instant ramen. It would rather go hungry.
At least we were on the same page.
I tried not to think about the strange call I got from Denise as I walked the four blocks to the office. The more I thought about it, the more it didn't make sense. She didn't usually make those kinds of annoying calls. Maybe it was my imagination, but she sounded a bit frantic. I figured my questions would be answered as soon as I checked the thing with the red top on the bottom shelf. Whatever it was. My stomach indulged in the thought that she was talking about the refrigerator. Denise hated leftovers so whenever she went out and had some food left, she usually brought it in for me. She was a doll. She was my only partner on this private eye farce of mine.
I hated that we had no work, but I hated more that I couldn't afford to pay her this week. It was a punch in the gut when she told me. I told her to go home, but she just ignored me. She said if she left I'd be closed up inside a month because I couldn't manage my way out of a paper bag. She said she'd have to go find a real job with a real boss who wasn't the bum I was. Then she sat down, pointed to my office, and yelled at me for still having unread prospects on my desk. Like I said, she was a doll.
The blinds were closed behind the large glass window on the office door. Denise usually opens them when she's in. I saw her car, so I figured she was down at that horrible deli on 22nd she likes for some damned reason. With the white blinds as a background the painting on the glass stood out. A magnifying glass over an eye, and "Sal Jacks, Private Eye" below it. It was too cliché for my tastes, but Denise liked it and it got the job done. I dug my keys out of my pocket and unlocked the door.
The place had been tossed. It didn't look professional, just two or three Billys knocking everything onto the floor. Either looking for something or looking to leave a message.
"Huh." I hung my coat.
If I was lucky Denise would walk through door with a deli bag in her hand. But I'm not a lucky guy.
I looked across the office and spotted that red top Denise told me about. Leftovers in some tupperware lying on the floor next an open box of baking soda in front of the empty refrigerator. It looked like some kid of rice dish. She was a doll. Now I just gotta get her back.
I opened the door to my office and stepped over the broken glass on the floor. At least I didn't see any blood. But I didn't see any notes either. I tossed the tupperware onto my desk and dropped into my chair. The top drawer on my desk was open and empty. "Ahh, not my cigars..." I pulled the short cigarette out of my mouth, and opened the tupperware. Rice with ground beef and what looked like tomato sauce. This didn't seem right. They've got Denise and I've got nothing. Where's the threat? Where's the brick wall Billy to work me over and tell me what mess I'm in now? Where's the nasty phone call telling me I'll "never see her again unless"? This didn't seem right.
The worst part was, I couldn't do a damn thing until I got a knock on my door or a phone call. Well, that's not entirely true. I picked up the plastic fork.
The food was great, and my stomach was full. Maybe now I could figure out what the hell is going on. The phone rang. Finally.
It was the cops. Denise was dead.
Fell off a bridge. They didn't mention why she walked 11 miles from the office, wandered out to the middle of the bridge and tripped over the edge. They never did.
She was murdered. And the only clue I had was working its way through my lower intestine.
My stomach turned as I though about the cold entrée I had so carelessly eaten.
An entrée of trouble.