“Kansas Two-Step”

This is chapter one of my novella “Kansas Two-Step”, now available at lulu.com.

 

ONE

 

          I’m not overly concerned when a prospective client questions me in any great detail.  After all, I’m not a book whose dust jacket you can read or a song you can download from the internet after listening to a sample.  And often, looks are deceiving and things are not what they appear.

          But this guy was pissing me off with his incessant attitude and his repetitive questions for which I was forced to give him the same answers.  Over and over again.  You would think he was deaf or had some kind of a short-term memory impairment.  He came across as a guy who couldn’t make a decision even if it were wrapped up in pretty pink ribbons.

          “So, it’s Bellicki?”

          “It’s pronounced Bell-Itch-Key.”

          “What is that?”

          “It’s Romanian.”

          “You’re Romanian?”

          “No.  The name is.  I’m American.”

          “And what does the ‘R.C.’ stand for?”

          “Is this germane?”

          “German?”

          “Germane.  Relevant.  Important.  Does it have to do with anything that we’re discussing?”

          “Well, Mr. Bellicki, I’ve never hired a private investigator before and I’m just worried…”

          “And as I told you on the phone,” I droned, irritated that I was mentioning this all over again for the umpteenth time, “I’m not a private investigator.  I do research for various firms.  Background checks for businesses or employment agencies.  I find hidden bank accounts for divorce lawyers.  I provide information services and dossiers for actual, real private investigators and sometimes even law enforcement agencies.  But I don’t go around in a London Fog with a fedora pulled down low over my eyes, walking the rain-soaked streets of Wichita.  I sit here most of the day at my trusty computer.  Occasionally I go to the library or the Epic Center.  More often than not, I go to Old Town for lunch and a beer.  But I figure it’s within walking distance so it’s easy to stumble back here.”  Yes, there was a bit of snippy sarcasm in my voice but it was designed to make a point.  One final point.

          “I wasn’t expecting Phillip Marlowe.”

          “Good.  Because I’m R.C. Bellicki.”

          He took in a lungful of air and released it slowly, as much to calm himself from the additional anger and frustration that I must have instilled in him.  His glance darted up to the ceiling and came back down to face level with the same exactness and precision.  When he spoke, it was with the tone of a teacher who was having difficulty explaining the lesson to his student.  Now he knew how I felt.

          “I’m certainly sorry.  But my situation is delicate and personal.  A family matter.  I thought that you could provide a certain degree of, shall we say, discretion that I’m certain the traditional law enforcement agencies could not accommodate.”

          I had spent twenty minutes jawing with Charles Bennington about irrelevant issues and matters of propriety and I still had no idea what the nature of his ‘personal family matter’ might have been.  He was slight of frame and seemed more concerned with his appearance than his constitution.  This was a man who lifted a brush to secure each hair on his head far more readily than a set of dumbbells.  Dick’s Sporting Goods was as foreign to him as a manicure was to me.  He appeared to be in his early fifties; evidence of a dye job to cover the salt-and-pepper made him look more like a ridiculous Elvis impersonator raised by William Randolph Hearst.

          He finally indicated that his stepson had “disappeared” as he mysteriously put it.  Meaning largely that the kid had grown tired of his parents and decided to live his own life, as all kids eventually do.  The kid’s mother, his second wife, had bore him when she was still a teen and her lack of maternal instincts had created a bond of sorts with Bennington, who was no great patriarch either by his own admission.  It was stated with an openness designed to show vulnerability and exact compassion.  But the openness was phony and the compassion merely play-acting. 

          His caring and sensitivity, according to him, gave the boy a safe haven.  Except that the boy, despite the attention, was sorely lacking in any form of appreciation, courtesy, or respect.  Nevertheless, Bennington still felt obligated to find him and, at the very least, get him back on his feet.  Assuming that he wound up sunny-side-up.

          It was my turn to pause for effect, breathe in lightly, exhale heavily, and show demonstrably my level of frustration.

          “And, as I’ve already indicated to you, this is so far removed from my capabilities that I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

          “Well, if you’re not up for the challenge…”  He spoke with a bored panache that made me doubt any sliver of sincerity he might have had just exhibited.

          “No, I’m not.  Especially where someone’s life is concerned.  And I wouldn’t have expected you to look upon this as a mere challenge.  Considering the circumstances.”

          My comment sliced his psyche like a paper cut.  It was obvious he was desperate and saying anything he could to get me on his side.  He didn’t seem like a bad guy, someone who deserved any extra misery over and above what life already doles out normally.  He just seemed out of touch with the so-called Real World, choosing instead to live his life in a way that was as clean and uncluttered and emasculated as possible.  That, above everything else, annoyed me.

          “Does he have an ATM card or a credit card or a checking account?” I asked clinically.

          “Credit card, yes.  Mine actually.”

          “His usage can be tracked.  It might create a chain of events to locate him.  You know, gas purchases, food, etc.”

          Bennington recognized that I was acquiescing, at least partly, taking a step closer to his side.  Not all the way, just leaning.

          “So, do you get, like, fifty dollars a day plus expenses?”

          “That’s a romantic notion based on 1940’s film noir.  I’m a research specialist.  I get 27.50 an hour.  Which is a hell of a lot less than lawyers charge.”

          “Yes.  I suppose so,” he said quietly.

          He filled out my cursory application form, provided me with as many details as he could muster and appeared to deflate like a helium balloon twenty-four hours after a birthday party.  And then out of the blue…

          “Why do you wear Hawaiian shirts?  It’s not some sort of Magnum-P.I. thing, is it?”

          It was all I could do the hold myself back from committing Shaken Baby Syndrome on him.  I was going to make one last attempt at logical and sensible clarity.  I was doubtful on my attempt even before it began.

          “You seem to have a pop culture view of life, Mr. Bennington.  I wear these shirts for the same reason a corporate CEO wears a three-piece suit or a garage mechanic wears coveralls.”

          His “Oh” belied the fact that he didn’t understand me.  He never did.

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. jenniferneri said,

    August 11, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    finally took the time to read. Glad i did. i like!
    (you must mention higgins, though!)

    Like

  2. tikiman1962 said,

    August 11, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Dual meaning: Higgins, the major-domo to Magnum played by Texas born actor John Hillerman; OR George V. Higgins, the Boston attorney who became a premier mystery and suspense writer, noted for “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (made into an utterly FANTASTIC movie starring Robert Mitchum).
    Check it out!

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: