Steve McGuire bursts through my office door, her red curls bouncing wildly around her freckled face like so may drunken corkscrews. She catches me leaning back in my desk chair, my Allen Edmonds wingtips on the desk.
“Marty, Harry’s on line two, and he sounds kinda -- I dunno -- frantic. I know you said you didn’t want to be disturbed, but I think you’d better take his call.”
Yeah, I did tell her I didn’t want to be disturbed, but we both know it had more to do with a light post-prandial snooze than with a heavy workload. Sleep has been eluding me, though, so might as well take the call. Besides, this doesn’t sound quite right, you know? Harry, frantic?
Harry Carrold is my partner in our not-as-yet wildly successful detective agency. Oh, sure, we bring in enough business to keep the wolves from the door (usually), but not so much that I can’t indulge in a little desk-chair siesta on occasion.
Harry and I couldn’t be more different, but our partnership works. Who knows, perhaps because of our difference. He’s Oscar to my Felix. There’s little that gets him into a tizzy and that’s what makes this sound really off. I might get wonky when something upsets my very orderly applecart. But Harry? Nah, Never happen. Until now, maybe, if Steve is right.
I swing my feet to the floor and sit up. “You’re exaggerating, right? Harry is the last guy I’d expect to be frantic.”
“I know, right? But I’m telling you, Marty, that’s how he sounds.”
Steve is our secretary, office manager, and all-around gal Friday. She’s also a bit of a mother hen when it comes to the two of us, despite her advanced old age of twenty-four, and now she’s all but ringing her hands as she speaks.
“OK, relax. I’ll talk to him. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“You’re where?” I shouldn’t be, I suppose – Harry can be a bit of a loose cannon -- but I’m surprised. “How the hell did you end up in jail? I thought you were going up to Santa Clarita this morning to deliver the surveillance report to Miranda Wilson.”
“I did. I did. Listen, Marty, I’m as bumfuzzled as you are. I don’t have a clue what’s happening here.” Steve’s right; Harry does sound a bit frantic. “When I got to Miranda’s house, she wasn’t home, so I left the report with the housekeeper. I stopped for lunch on the way back. Then remembered I’d left the file copy of the surveillance report on my kitchen table, so I swung by the house to get it.”
I sigh heavily. “Harry, will you get to the point? Where does jail come into all this?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, if you’d shut up half a minute. When I got home, she was there.”
“Who was there? What’re you talking about?” I run my hand through my hair, frustrated.
“Miranda Wilson, for Pete’s sake. Of course she wasn’t home when I got to her house. She was in my fucking kitchen. Flat out on the linoleum. In a pool of blood, Marty.”
“What? Was she dead? Did you drink your lunch, Harry?”
“Hell, yeah, she was dead. Aren’t you listening to me? She was deader’n Kelsey’s nuts.”
Yep, Harry is definitely frantic. “You called the cops, right?”
“Oh, no-o-o, didn’t need to,” Harry says, voice dripping in sarcasm. “You can’t find a cop when you need one, but I’d no sooner picked my jaw up off the floor than they screeched into the driveway, sirens blaring. Burst right in like they owned the joint and arrested my ass. For murder, Marty. Cuffs, Miranda, the whole fucking nine yards. That’s what I been trying to tell you. Listen, you gotta get me outta here.”
“Calm down. There’s gotta be some kind of mistake here.” I’m on my feet, pacing around my desk at this point.
“Gee, Marty, ya think? They didn’t seem to think so when they were printing me and taking my portrait for their rogues gallery. They took my fucking belt, for crying out loud.”
“Okay, okay, Harry. I’ll send Carrington right down. Don’t say a word until he gets there. We’ll sort this out.”
“Damn straight, we will. Now get me outta here.”
My intercom buzzes and it’s Steve, using her “professional” voice. “Sorry to bother you, Mr. Tremaine, but Harry and Mr. Carrington are here."
“Please send them in, Stephanie,” I reply, calling Steve by her given name, since we’re being professional and all.
A moment later, Steve opens the door to my office and ushers the perp and his lawyer in. (Heh, always wanted to say that.)
I look Harry over and say, “Well, you don’t look too worse for wear after your little stay in the hoosegow.”
“Yeah, real funny,” Harry says as he throws himself down on my office couch. With my keen powers of observation, I can tell he’s none too happy. I am a trained detective, after all.
I turn to George Carrington, who’s taken a seat in one of my desk chairs. George is our lawyer, the guy who helped us get our ducks in a row when we opened the agency. Criminal law is not his bailiwick, but he’s the only lawyer I had on my rolodex.
“Do you know what happened, George?”
Before George can answer, Harry pipes up. “I was framed, that’s what fucking happened.”
He gets up and storms through the door that connects our offices, slamming it behind him.
George rolls his eyes, and fills me in. “I don’t know a lot, Marty. Apparently the police got an anonymous call saying that a woman had been killed at Harry’s address, and that the killer was still in the house. According to Harry, they got there minutes after he got home. He’s out on bail, but he’s far from out of the woods.”
George pauses and gives me a searching look. “Look, Marty, I mean… There’s no way that Harry could have…?”
“Of course not. Clearly he is being framed. But by whom, and why?”
“Well, I guess that’s more in your wheelhouse than mine. Yours and the police’s,” George says. “But I gotta tell you, Marty, I didn’t get the idea that they were going to do much looking for another suspect. They’re pretty convinced that they virtually caught a killer in the act. The woman was still warm, for God’s sake. It doesn’t look good.”
George licks his lips and leans toward me. “Say, you got anything to drink in here?”
I’ve long suspected that our esteemed barrister might be a bit of a tippler. I pull open the lower right drawer on my desk and take out the bottle of Jim Beam I keep there for when things get bad. I just never expected that they’d get this bad. I grab three glasses from the tray on the filing cabinet against the wall to my right, pour two fingers of bourbon into each, and hand one to George. Then I walk to the connecting door, open it and say, “Harry, come on in here and have a drink. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
When Harry returns and sits in the other chair in front of my desk, ill humor radiating from him, I hand him a glass of bourbon. He makes short work of it.
I walk around my desk and sit down. After I drain my glass, I set it on the desk with a resounding thunk.