Morning. It was raining, as usual. Falling steadily on the pavement, washing away the filth. Hammering on the cars in the street below, soaking my bedsheets. I made a mental note to stop leaving the window open all night for dramatic effect, the cleaning bills were getting ridiculous. This is a story of corruption, greed, and minor inconvenience. And who am I, your narrator on this seedy journey? The name’s Dick Whale. Amateur private eye.
I woke up slowly, hazy from the previous night. I took a shot of whiskey for the road and started for the door. There was no need to get dressed because I sleep in a trenchcoat and trilby every night.
I walked out of my office/damp apartment and greeted my secretary. “Any messages for me, doll?”
“Pissoffyatwat” growled my secretary in response, hurling a bottle of suspect liquid in my general direction. A word of caution: corridor-dwelling hobos do not make good personal assistants. And usually don’t like being addressed as women, but some of them turn a blind eye if the money’s right. I continued to flirt for appearances sake.
“You can keep playing hard to get, sweetcheeks, but my charm’s gonna wear ya down someday”
Some choice euphemisms for homosexual and the smell of stale frankfurters followed me down the hall. This city was a dive, and I knew it like the back of my hand: from the docks, to the city centre, to ol’ Portswood, even the far reaches of Bencraft. Lady Southampton was my mistress, and I treated her well.
I was fresh out of online detective school, and in the six weeks since I got my license I’d learned that crimes don’t come to you as often as you’d think.
I realised I would need to take the good fight to Southampton: the only way I could clean up these streets was to be proactive. My usual technique of standing around in the light of streetlamps in the city centre wasn’t going to work anymore if I kept getting beaten up by the pregnant teenagers outside Asda, so I changed my beat. If I was wanting to find people in need, I had to go to where people were at their neediest: the Hartley library.
I knew the library well. I went there on a semi-regular basis to read film noir textbooks and brush up on my 40s slang. How else would I have some killer-diller phrases to use when I’m eating hen fruit and having a gas with a ducky shincracker?
I crossed the heaving reception area, keeping one eye open for a score. I thought I caught one dame giving me the look, but I think she just had a lazy eye. Suddenly, scanning the floor, an open, unattended library book caught my attention by the balls and squeezed in a way that wasn’t entirely unpleasant. I snatched it up and sauntered over to the loans desk.
“Hi there, how can I help?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. You know exactly what I need”
Her previously friendly smile was turning down at the corners in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“Spill the beans, toots. The number on the front page here, it’s a code. But what for? Tell me straight or I’ll knock you into the middle of next week”
“…Toots? Really? I don’t know who you think you are, but I’m calling security. Also, that number at the front is an ISBN you idiot”
I told myself that getting beaten up came with the territory as I moved onto a second pack of tissues to staunch the blood flow from my nose. All the best hard-boiled private dicks took a couple of punches, although usually not from elderly library security guards.
Plus, he’d given me a valuable clue. Not one to be deterred, I’d seen straight through the façade of the receptionist. She was hiding something, that much was obvious. The kicker had come when the guard came over with his mug of tea. In the ensuing bout I had managed to smash his mug, and a glimpse at the shattered fragments of the vessel told me exactly where I needed to go next. I had to go down to Chinatown.
Chinatown was a shop in the city that specialised in porcelain. I’d bought a really nice personalised dinner plate from there once. The place was clean, organised, well-stocked: I smelled a front. I walked down the aisles slowly, whistling and loudly talking about my crockery plans so as to avoid suspicion. When the shop was deserted, I headed over to the checkout. The broad behind the counter was a beauty, with legs that went all the way up to here and smouldering eyes, with an attitude that screamed ‘don’t mess with me’. I could tell she wasn’t too bright though from her reading material and job as a cashier, so I knew cracking this cookie would be a steal.
“I heard all of that, arsehole. You’re narrating aloud. Did you actually call me a broad?!”
“Private Investigator Dick Whale, missy”, I said in the face of her indignation. “What have you got to say about this?”
I handed over the fragment of mug and awaited her reply. She looked back at me with less interest than Nicolas Cage takes in his movie choices.
I tried again. “I found it on a perp down at the book joint. Wanna tell me what he was doing here, doll?”
“He was probably a customer. That’s how commerce works, dick.”
“Listen here, we’re not on first name terms yet. Now spill it, or I’ll get in the back and find out what you’re hiding myself!”
She leant over to one side of the checkout and pulled out a taser. “It would make my week if you tried.”
Now Dick Whale was one to get into a few scrapes, but he knew when he was beat. I made a mental note to narrate in the third person more, sounded classy. Also, remember to enquire as to why porcelain shops need tasers. I couldn’t leave without information on the big score, so I leaned on the counter and gave the store-gal my best smouldering detective look.
“What are you doing?…Are you crying? Jesus, ok, erm… The guy who owns the Halal Meat Centre comes in here quite a lot, he buys personalised teapots. Maybe he’s got…whatever you’re after.”
I knew I would crack her eventually. Surprised she didn’t crumble straight into my arms, most of the ladies don’t hold out long. But now wasn’t the time to be thinking with my Little Dick: I had somebody’s meat to inspect.
I pulled up outside the Halal Meat Centre just before closing time in my Ford Fiesta. It was raining, hard. The only people I saw were running with coats over their heads, sheltering in alleyways. The neon glare of the front window bathed me in artificial light as I gazed up at the sign above the door. This was the place. It must be.
The owner was packing up as I walked inside, but came over to greet me. “Halal! Is it meat you’re looking for? Hah, just kidding, I try that on everyone. What are you after? I’m actually just closing up but I’m I can find something!”
I shook my head in the face of his obviously fake friendliness. “Don’t play dumb with me, scum. I know the score. You left a difficult trail, I’ll grant you that. But you didn’t count on me. It’s over,…you.”
The smile didn’t leave the manager’s face, but it clouded with bemusement. “Sir, I have no idea what you’re talking about. If you do want some religiously prepared meat though, I can help you.”
“Didn’t you hear me? The game’s up!” I reiterated. “I know about everything! The library, Chinatown, the pornography! That’s what everyone’s into in these schemes, right? Illegal pornography?”
“What?! This is ridiculous, who are you?” he said, edging towards the back door in panic.
“I’m Dick Whale, scumbag! You’ve got away with this for way too long. It’s high time someone cleared slime like you off the streets. This town may be a hole, but it’s MY hole! Wait, let me try that again…”
I stepped forward and crashed into a rack of halal hotdogs, scattering them over the floor and allowing the manager time to escape. I heaved myself up from the writhing mass of sandwich filler and gave chase, grabbing a mostly frozen chicken from a display as an impromptu weapon and bounding into the alley behind the shop.
I heard the sound of my pounding feet echo around the dark narrow alley. The manager turned left at the end: I followed. The rain was coming down harder than ever. When I got to the junction I saw he was cornered. I raised then chicken at him menacingly and walked towards him.
“Come quietly,” I said. “I don’t want to hurt you. Much. I kinda wanna punch you actually, I never usually get that far.”
“I didn’t kill my wife!”
“I don’t care!…Wait, what?!”
I reflected on the case as I watched the news report in my flat the next day. The manager had killed his wife, they’d been looking for the culprit for weeks. Just needed some of the ol’ Whale initiative it seems. It wasn’t what I was gonna book him for at all, but, you know, easy come easy go. I put my fake badge I got from a cereal box on the bedside table and settled in for the night. Wherever there is a tenuous mystery, I’ll be there. Wherever there is mild injustice, I’ll be there. And wherever the cops are afraid to tread, I’ll be there. Mainly cos I’m banned from hanging around cops.
Dick Whale will return in: TINKER TABBER SOLDIER SCENE