The dame wafted into my life like a cloud of stale smoke. Without being invited, she took a seat in the only chair in what passes for my office.
“You’re a hard man to find, Mister Krieger,” she purred. She had a voice like a quarry, but the posture of a dancer. Her plain blue dress was offset by a hat that cost more than I paid in rent. The nervous way she twisted her exquisitely tailored gloves told the whole story: she had money, but wasn’t sure it would last.
“Well they don’t call me the Privatest Private Eye for nothing.”
“Doesn’t seem like a great way to run a business…”
She had me there. I didn’t go looking for clients, and I didn’t advertise. As a result, the only people who’d come knocking recently were the bailiffs. But I valued my privacy. I had my reasons. They’re private too.
“Well you’ve found me now,” I said. “And I respect persistence. But you should know I charge 30 dollars a day, plus expenses.”
“I’m prepared to offer double.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a fat stack of fifties. More than enough to keep the lights on and the blinds shut for a year. “As long as I can trust your discretion?”
“As long as the money keeps flowing, trust needn’t enter into it. That’s how this whole arrangement works. Now how can I help?”
“Someone is planning to kill my husband. I need you to protect him.”
“How sweet. You must really love him.”
She gave a laugh like a drain. “Hubert is a fat old bore who’d rather look at his maps than me. But he’s in the process of buying a stately home which recently came on the market. It would hardly be in my interests if he were to die before the sale was complete. Once it is, he’ll have to go back to looking after himself.”
“So this is a temporary assignment, then?”
“Absolutely. Keep Hubert alive, make sure he doesn’t find out who wants to plug him, then disappear back into the shadows you seem to love so much.”
You don’t last long in this business by casting judgment, but you also don’t last without a good intuition. Something didn’t add up. But those greenbacks would, and in the end that’s all that matters.
“You don’t seem shocked, Mr Krieger”
“It’s 1938. No-one shocked by anything anymore. And a job’s a job. Where’s this place your husband’s bought? Something tells me it’s not in the Five Boroughs.”
“Hardly. It’s called Herringford Hall.”
“That’s not its name now, of course. But Hubert promised to rename it once the sale goes through. Just think, I’ll be Lady Herringford. Not bad for a broad from the wrong side of the tracks.”
“So what’s it called now? How do I find it?”
She reached back into her purse, removed a square of paper and slid it across the desk. It was a piece of map, practically blank. Just a few fields.
“This is your stately home? I think Hubert might be doing a number on you.
“Hardly. It’s one map square north of there. But you’re not the only one who hates to leave a paper trail.”
“Listen, lady. I’m not here to play games.”
That laugh again. “Of course you are. That’s all there is in this life. I’ve booked us both passage on tonight’s steamer. Different classes, naturally, but I’m sure you’ll survive. If you can find your way to the Hall, consider yourself hired. And if you complete your assignment, after that, who knows?”
Before I could protest, she was out of her chair, my office, and maybe my life. Unless I could figure out where I was supposed to go…