I pulled the shades, sat down behind my desk and put my feet up. I slipped my hat down over my eyes, like those private dicks always do in those movies they make out of Raymond Chandler stories. Blowing in from the street a minute ago, I had even told Doreen to hold all my calls. What a cliché. Not that I had energy enough to care right then. I folded my arms and settled in for a nice, long afternoon nap. Is it normal to be this tired this early? Maybe I have an iron deficiency . . .
My nice long afternoon nap lasted around five minutes. I heard my office door open, then slam shut. I pulled my feet off the desk and sat up, lifted my hat off my eyes. She was a hard looking older woman — pretty, if you like your women like you like your sandpaper. “I hope I’m not interrupting,” she said, eyeing me up and down.
“No, that’s all right,” I said, straightening my collar. I gestured to the chair on her side of the desk. “Have a seat.”
She took off her overcoat and hung it on the rack next to the door. I gave a good look-over as she pulled out the chair and sat down. Judith Anderson in a pant-suit. “You’re Brad Slamley, the private detective?” she asked.
“’S what it says on the door.”
“I have a job for you,” she said.
“Somebody tell you I was looking for work?”
She tossed a dossier on the desk. “It might not be easy, but I can pay you well. And if you help me, I may be in a good position to help you very, very soon.”
I placed my finger on the dossier. “Before I open this, let me ask you a question: How’d you get in here?”
“Your secretary told me to go on in.”
“I see.” I picked up the dossier. “Doreen and I must have a talk.” I opened the folder. Page one was a glossy photo of a man, a handsome black man in his mid-forties, someone I had seen plenty on TV these past few months. The rest of the pages were just general information — where he lived, where he was going to be in the next few days, names of his more well-known friends. “So?” I asked, flipping the folder shut and putting it back on the desk. “What’s the job?”
“Dig up some dirt,” she said. “Get me something I can use.”
I leaned back and folded my arms. “Something like what?” I asked, pushing the brim of my hat back with the tip of my finger.
She tilted her head as she gazed at me, puzzled. “I was told you’ve done this sort of thing before.”
“And that you’re good.”
“I’m the one who dug up Bush’s drunk driving charge and National Guard record. I exposed Gary Hart’s affair with Donna Rice. I brought down Mark Foley and Larry Craig,” I said. “So, yeah.” I pushed the dossier across the desk toward her. “I don’t think I can help you.”
“Why not? Don’t tell me you don’t expect to find anything. And if it’s the money, believe me, I can pay you—”
“What do you want me to dig up that’s gonna do you any good against him?” I asked, opening the folder and holding up the glossy photo. “The guy already wrote a book where he admitted to smoking pot and snorting coke. You hoping I’ll discover he’s secretly a Muslim who honor-killed his sister?”
“That’d be a start,” she said.
I put the photo back and closed the dossier again. “You’re winning already. Play your cards right and you can beat him without my help. Why risk coming here?”
“Always nice to have insurance,” she said, “for piece of mind. Besides, if it turns out I need him on the ticket, I’d like to give him a reason to say yes.”
I opened the bottom drawer of the desk, picked up the dossier and tossed it inside. “Leave this with me and I’ll look into it,” I said as I slid the drawer closed. “If I find anything, I’ll let you know.”
“What about your price?” she asked. “I’d like to get that taken care of ahead of time, before I get the bill in the mail.”
“I’ll need a thousand per day, plus expenses.”
“Starting when you walked through that door.”
She got up out of the chair and pulled on her overcoat. “I’ll expect to hear from you,” she said. “Can you get me something by Tuesday?”
“We’ll see,” I said. “I’m a very busy man.”
She walked out and shut the door behind her. I shook my head and picked up the phone. Doreen picked up a second later. “Sweetie, when I said to hold my calls, I meant the in-person ones, too, not just the phone calls.”
“Sorry, Brad, honey.”
“In the office it’s Mr. Slamley, Doreen. Hold all my calls from now on, all right?”
“Yes, Mr. Slamley.”
I put the phone down and got up from the desk to take a piss. I thought I heard my office door opening and closing again over the sink as I washed my hands. “Get back to work, Doreen,” I yelled. “I don’t have time to fool around today.” I shut off the sink and dried my hands. My first thought when I emerged from the bathroom was that Doreen had been sawed off at the knees and hit with a blowtorch. “Who let you in here?” I asked the man sitting in front of my desk.
He stood up and offered me his hand. “Your secretary,” he said in a Brooklyn-accented lisp.
“I told her to hold all my calls,” I said as I shook his hand.
“I was already waiting.”
“Right, of course you were.” I took my chair behind the desk and motioned for him to sit back down. “How can I help you?”
He reached into the mafia pocket of his coat and pulled out a stack of photographs. He tossed them onto the desk so that they spread out, just like they always do in the movies. One of them was a picture of the woman who just left. One was a picture of the man she’d hired me to look into. The other two were of an older, balding, white-haired man, and a younger, taller man with precisely styled black hair that looked like it belonged on a Ken doll or the cover of an issue of The Watchtower.
No, not The Watchtower. Wrong religion.
“I need you to look into these,” said the man sitting in my office. “Find me something I can use.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Things they wouldn’t want the American people to know,” he said. “Things that could give me a leg up.”
“You wanted a leg up, you shouldn’t have skipped Iowa and New Hampshire,” I said, sitting back in my chair.
“I spent money in New Hampshire.”
“I wouldn’t spread that around, if I were you. What were you, about fifth place?”
“I’m banking on the later states, with more delegates.”
“You know, realistically, even if I manage to dig up some dirt on these guys, you really haven’t got much of a shot,” I said. “Why not just save your money, go home, spend time with your wife before this one divorces you, too.”
“I’m not afraid of a fight,” he said. “I’m going to prove I can come back, just like New York came back after September 11.” He picked up the photograph of the black man and showed it to me. “Speaking of which, can you maybe prove that he has ties to al-Qaeda or something? If it winds up me against him in the general, I’d have a much better chance if it turned out he was a suicide bomber or something.”
“I don’t manufacture evidence,” I said, “I just find what’s there.”
“You don’t think anything like that is there?”
“Not unless he was a member of that infamous sleeper cell at Harvard Law School, no.”
“Well, anything you can find would be helpful, I’m sure. Will you take the case?”
“Not case,” I said, “cases
. And it won’t be cheap.”
“Two thousand per target, per day. Plus expenses.”
The man’s eyes widened in this very creepy way, as though he’d just sat down on a thumbtack but was trying not to let on. “That’s more than I was told.”
“You can afford it.”
“My campaign is strapped for cash.”
“I said you
can accord it,” I said. “This really the sort of thing you want on your campaign’s books?”
He stared at the photos he’d spread across my desk. “Do you accept the job, then?”
I gathered the photos into a pile and dropped them into the bottom drawer, on top of the dossier the woman had brought me earlier. “I’ll look into them. If I see anything interesting, I’ll contact you.”
“What about payment?”
I stood up behind the desk. “I’ll bill you.”
He got out of the chair, buttoned his coat, and exited my office. He left the door open a crack. I got up to close it, pausing on the way at my liquor cabinet to fix myself a scotch and soda. I took a sip and walked to the door. Instead of pushing it closed, I opened it all the way and waited for the man outside to come in. “Please, have a seat,” I said.
The tall, handsome black man who had been waiting in the hall walked in and took a seat in front of the desk. I shut the door. “Where’s my secretary?” I asked as I took my chair behind the desk.
“I passed her on my way in,” he said. “She was on her way out to lunch.”
“I see,” I said, nodding. I sipped at my scotch. “What can I do for you?”
He tossed a folder onto the desk. I was starting to wonder if that was the only way these guys knew to exchange information. I opened it. Inside was a photograph of the woman who had come to see me. Judith Anderson in a pant-suit. “I want to be President of the United States,” the man said.
I picked up the folder and tossed it into the bottom drawer with the others. “I think I might be able to help you out with that, Senator.”