Tuesday, June 10, 2008
From the Confidential Files of Detective Paco: Grand-Theft, Durango (Part I)
A grateful and curvaceous client had invited me to her apartment for a drink, so I showed up promptly at the time agreed, and she met me at the door, wearing nothing but a short terry-cloth robe and a wicked smile. I walked across the threshold, already cherishing what looked to be a once-in-a-lifetime afternoon, when I was startled nearly out of my skin by machinegun fire. I grabbed my client and dove to the floor, but a sharp pain in my head told me that I’d been hit. After an indeterminate time of darkness alternating with blurred images, I opened my eyes and discovered…that I was lying in my own bed in my own apartment, my head was hanging slightly off the side being poked by the sharp corner of the night table, and a woodpecker was hammering away on the windowsill. The curvaceous client? Just a part of the dream that didn’t require any external stimulus. I figured that this had to be the biggest let-down of the day, so I was practically whistling a happy tune when I got to the office.
Opening the door, I saw Sheila sitting at her desk, and a man on the opposite side with his back to me. They were bathed in the soft morning light of a slightly overcast day; the effect was somewhat like a painting by Vermeer. On closer inspection I noticed that they were hunched over a chess board.
“So, who’s winning?”, I piped up.
“Shhhh!” The man’s sibilation was so loud and agitated that it put me in mind of feeding time in the Komodo dragon pen at the zoo.
I looked down at him and saw my old friend and sometime partner, Wronwright. Sheila had taken the black pieces, and Wronwright the white. Interestingly, I saw a large pile of white chessmen gathered in a heap by Sheila’s side of the board. Wronwright hadn’t gone down without a fight, though; one captive black pawn stood forlornly by his elbow. The outlook was bleak, however; Wronwright’s lonely king appeared to be in full flight, resembling a Methodist missionary fleeing from a mob of cannibal-island agnostics.
“Sheila, I didn’t know you knew how to play chess.”
She moved her bishop. “Checkmate!” She smiled at Wronwright, who replied by pursing his lips and turning red.
“I didn’t know how to play, until Wronwright taught me this morning.”
I smiled and lit a cigarette. “Well, as they say, those who can’t do…”
Wronwright shot out of his chair, snapping into a vertical position like a human switchblade. “I’m not at the top of my game, right now, Paco! I’ve got a lot on my mind. They’ve taken Dorothy!”
I pushed my hat back and sat on the corner of the desk – whereupon Wronwright’s queen, captive but still defiant, poked me in a sensitive spot with her crown. I stood up again.
“This sounds serious, Wron. Dorothy, huh? But, wait a minute; I thought your wife’s name was…”
“No, no, no! Not my wife. My Dodge Durango, with the 5.7-liter hemi-engine and the Inferno Red paint job and the DVD player and “ – he stifled a sob – “the Ohio State Buckeyes license plate! She’s gone!”
This was more serious than Wronwright suspected – and not just because he had named his Durango “Dorothy” instead of the customary “Betsy.” Since he had just blown into town on a business trip, he couldn’t be expected to know that SUV’s had been disappearing all over the city – not as the result of normal auto thefts, with the vehicles being quickly spirited out of the country to South America, but by a sinister gang of vandals, who were stealing cars and trucks, driving them out into the country, and smashing them to pieces with sledge hammers; apparently the work of some extremist environmental group. When I broke the news to Wronwright about the ominous possibility, he collapsed in his chair. “Dorothy!”, he moaned.
I saw what was needed. “Sheila, why don’t you fetch our friend, here, a glass of bourbon from the liquor cabinet.”
Wronwright made a feeble motion with his hand. “No…too early in the day…Don’t you have a bottle of Yoo Hoo?”
Sheila silenced the exasperated words that I was about to utter with a look of melting sympathy, and said, “I’ll be back in a flash, Wron. Just sit tight.”
So, while we waited for Sheila to get back from the store with – Gawd a’mighty! – a bottle of Yoo Hoo, Wronwright filled me in. He had driven into town to take care of some matters relating to a tax case he was handling, and was staying at a Marriott just outside of the city. He had gone out to eat dinner about 6:30 the previous evening, then he returned to the hotel, watched television for a while (reruns of Doctor Who), turned in around 11:30, and almost instantly fell asleep. When he got up this morning, the Durango – which had been parked right outside of his first-floor room – was gone. Wronwright called the police, but the cop who showed up to talk to him hadn’t been very hopeful; that’s why he had come to me.
I was stumped momentarily. Whoever had nabbed the Durango had stolen a march on us of maybe as much as ten hours. Then a thought hit me.
“Wronwright, how were you fixed for gas, last night, when you returned to the hotel?”
“I was flying on the fumes. I had intended to fill up the tank after dinner, but I overshot the Exxon station on the way back to the hotel, so I figured I’d just stop by there this morning before I left for home.”
It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Whoever stole the Durango had to buy gasoline, and pronto, so it might make sense to check with the filling stations and the convenience stores in the immediate vicinity of Wronwright’s hotel and see if anyone remembered it (after all, a Durango painted Inferno Red must have burned itself into somebody’s retina).
I told Wronwright about my first step, and the iron went into his soul; all he needed was a little hope. Sheila walked in about then. “Wronwright, I couldn’t find Yoo Hoo; the closest thing to it was a small carton of Hershey’s chocolate milk. Is that ok?”
He smiled grimly as we prepared to go. “Put it on ice, baby! We’ll celebrate with it when I get Dorothy back!” Carried away by his new-found optimism – and, no doubt, by his feeling, whenever in my company, of co-starring in an old Warner Bros. detective movie – he gave Sheila a peck on the cheek. I silenced the angry words she was about to utter with my own look of melting sympathy, and followed Wronwright out the door. The milk carton just missed us as we turned the corner under the exit sign to the stairwell, smashing harmlessly against the door of Dr. Pontoon, Podiatrist.
(To be continued...)