Saturday, October 13, 2012

Marshalle Lawe and the Case of the Snobby Lady, Part I

By Nurit Kraus-Friedberg

Stake-outs get my nose out of joint to begin with and this one was giving me a serious
case of the heebie-jeebies. It was my dumb luck - the only case to come walking
through my door since the flood had put me down smack in the middle of an alley filled
with rotting garbage, with a chop shop on one side and an empty storefront on the
other. It wasn’t good enough to be assaulted by the smell, either. The weather did its
part by contributing a torrent of rain that ran off the brim of my fedora and down the
neck of my trench coat.

I contemplated the possibility of purchasing an umbrella, but quickly dismissed the
idea. For one thing, the balance of the checking account I had opened in the name
of “Marshalle Lawe, Private Eye” (“If you’re looking for a tough gumshoe, I’m your gal”)
hovered around zero.And then there was the issue of The Association’s by-laws to

The bold-print ad in the local directory announced the name of the organization as
The Southern Association of Tough Private Investigators. A strict code of ethics and
behavior was incumbent upon the entire membership. I had pledged to uphold every
last syllable when I joined and the rest of the membership, all of the male persuasion,
took every opportunity to make sure I knew that no exceptions would be forthcoming for
a dame. Should I be discovered wielding an umbrella, my name in the field would be

I cautiously stuck my head out of the alleyway and glanced briefly in both directions.
The lone streetlight cast a sickly yellow glow on the wet, disintegrating landscape.
There was still no sign of my quarry, Big Jack.

Big Jack was wanted in all 48 contiguous United States. Canada and Mexico weren’t
too fond of the creep either, and rumor had it that Iceland was about to get on the
bandwagon of Big Jack haters. Each locale had a number of good reasons for putting
the sleaze’s mug shot up in their post offices. Embezzlement, fraud, armed robbery –
you name it, Big Jack had been there, done that. Yessiree, this was one rare specimen
of humankind, even rarer when you stopped to consider that the individual in question
had been born Jacqueline Farnsworth, magnolia blossom daughter of Southern steel
tycoon Pierre Farnsworth.

My client, Miss Jane “Mah Daddy Owns Oil Wells” Quinn, had hired me to find Big Jack
for a different reason, though. A really different reason.

“Miz Law, Ah’m frantic, just frantic!” she had emoted in cultivated Southern tones as she
sat in my office three days previously. She dabbed delicately at a tear running down her
porcelain-smooth face and handed me a cream-colored envelope. “Ah sent out this li’l
ol’ invitation to all the addresses Ah’ve got for her, and it came back undeliverable each
time! Ah swear, Ah cain’t think what to do next! You just have to find her!”

“You want to send an invitation to Jacqueline Farnsworth?” I queried, my voice tinged
with Northern roots and incredulity. “What on earth for?”

“It’s to the reunion, o’ course!” She stared at me as if I were an idiot. “Ah’ll have you
know that Jackie and Ah are both graduates of Miss Healy’s Academy for Snobby
Young Ladies and this Sat’day night is our class’ 10 year reunion! We’re havin’ it at a
real exclusive place, the Plantation Club. None of us has seen li’l ol’ Jackie in ages and
we were so hopin’ she’d come! Ah cain’t imagine she’d want to miss it!”

Somehow, I could. But my job description doesn’t entail calling into question the
judgement of rich skirts who offer me paid employment at a time when my rent is
seriously overdue. So I coughed briefly but significantly and ran through a list of
question regarding Big Jack’s looks, personal proclivities and last known whereabouts,
all of which Miss Quinn answered with relish and in more detail than I would need in
three lifetimes. I was relieved when she finally left and I could hit the streets.

I soon found that none of Big Jack’s most recent haunts were as swanky as her
upbringing might lead one to suspect. Not that her upbringing would lead one to suspect
she’d become a hardened criminal either, but three out of the four locations Miss Quinn
had suggested turned out to be places that no one with human genetic material should
get within ten miles of. Li’l ol’ Jackie seemed to agree, as she was nowhere to be seen,
heard, or otherwise discovered in any of them. Less than 48 hours now remained
until “Sat’day night” and the allegedly joyous reunion. There was no doubt that I was
going to need major results from Location #4 in order to solve this case.

So now I was standing ankle deep in soggy trash, waiting for Big Jack to put in an
appearance and trying not to think about extraneous topics such as that cut-off notice
from the gas company or the note from the Association threatening me with dire
retribution should I continue to retain custody of their library’s video, “Funniest Detective

I stuck my hand in my pocket and fished for the Hershey bar I always bring with me
on stakeouts. I a world of lies and deceit, trickery and cowardice, chocolate stands
tough and true. I had just torn through the outer wrapper when something seemed to
flicker across the street. I squinted to get a better view. Had the door to a seemingly
abandoned warehouse really opened a crack or was the waterfall descending from my
hat reflecting the weak glow of the streetlamp?

There was only one way to find out. I crammed the chocolate back into my pocket and,
staying low, dashed across the road into the shadows of the buildings on the other side.

I found myself about fifteen feet from the warehouse door, my way blocked by a puddle
the size of the Gulf of Mexico. Making a mental note to acquire a pair of boots at the first
possible financial opportunity, I flattened myself against the wall at hand and stepped
into the black, oily liquid. Icy water closed in over my tootsies and made itself at home in
my footwear. I cursed. (The Association would have been proud.)

The sound of a squeaking hinge diverted my attention from my podiatric predicament.
Sloshing carefully along the wall, I focused on the slowly widening gap as the door
continued to open. I reached under my coat and pulled out my long-out-of-ammunition-
but-it-looks-deadly-anyway gun and waited.

The door came to a standstill. I listened closely for sounds within – of almost-silent feet
creeping across a concrete floor, of an actually-loaded gun being drawn, of a feminine
felon with, I hoped, a bad case of bronchitis. Nothing.

Slipping inside, it was only a matter of a few steps before my foot caught on something
soft and yielding and I fell forward, my weapon flying off into the nether regions. The
silence was shattered by ear-splitting shrieks that went on and on. Luckily, I discovered,
the shrieks were not coming from me.

However, they did seem to emanate from the very spot where I lay. I rolled over and
fumbled for my flashlight, which illuminated a small, somewhat flattened member of
the feline persuasion. Its white fur was rumpled and damp and it wore a jazzy collar
with some silvery doodads hanging from it. Upper crust it obviously was, but Big Jack
it certainly wasn’t. I groaned and stood up. The cat retreated a few feet and, between
hisses, began to put its fur in order with its tongue.

It was obvious by now that no one was home in this potential den of iniquity but I
decided to give the joint a once-over anyway. The beam of the flashlight revealed a
huge, two-story room containing assorted broken packing crates and no place in which
anything larger than a cat could conceal itself. Some empty Willy’s Whiskey flasks lay
in a particularly fragrant corner with a bunch of crumpled napkins and the remains of
a cheese sandwich. I picked up one of the less grimy napkins and examined it. A few
pencil marks were scrawled on one side, maybe significant, maybe not. I shoved it into
my pocket for later perusal and went through the others.

Napkin #5 turned out to be the charm, for on it were the clearest set of lip-prints I had
ever seen, all in the shade of Blushing Pink Paradise!

According to Miss Quinn, this particular color had been Big Jack’s favorite since her
days at Miss Healy’s. She had further emphasized that a Miss Healy’s girl never, ever
went out without a full face of makeup. She had looked aghast just speaking about the

Fortunately, the esteemed Miss Farnsworth seemed to have internalized at least this
aspect of the school’s code of ethics.

I decided to call it a night. My evidence needed closer examination and my body
needed a bath. I could take care of both at home and it was unlikely that my making
contact with hot water and a bar of soap would ever be discovered by the membership
of the Association. Flashlight in hand, I located my gun and made a grateful exit,
heading for the bus stop three blocks away.

The cat did too, following me and howling to beat the band. I turned to face the little

“Enough!” I thundered. “Vamoose! Scram!”

It remained where it was, continuing to howl.

I stamped my foot, then picked up a bottle cap from the pavement and threw it to
emphasize my point. “Get out of here! Now!”

The creature held its ground, as well as its volume.

This was one tough feline, but as much as I admire toughness, I had no intention of
spending all night in combat. I turned and continued walking. So did the cat, continuing
to exercise its right to free speech.

My patience was deteriorating exponentially and my ears were ringing. I turned around
and grabbed the miserable thing with both hands whereupon it cut the howls and began
to purr. I wasn’t impressed.

“I’ve got bad news for you, cat!” I informed it, trying not to snarl. “It’s time to make your
exit! Showtime’s over!”

It purred some more.

I had to admit, this was a major improvement over its previous vocal gymnastics. Afraid
now of putting it down, I reluctantly tucked it under my arm and continued on my way
to the bus, wondering what to do with it next. The thing was obviously lost, I thought. A
cat this fancy must have a worried owner somewhere. How had it gotten to this part of
town, though? And what, if anything, did it have to do with Big Jack?

Stay tuned for Marshalle Law and the Case of the Snobby Lady, Part II.