Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Detective Paco Rerun - Detective Paco and the Drive-By Shooting

[Author's note: I linked to an American Spectator piece the other day by Hal G.P. Colebatch. That name sounded familiar, and I recollected that I had used a Colebatch in one of my old Detective Paco stories. I dug through the archives and found the story, which features Tim Colebatch, who had apparently been giving Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt a hard time. I reissue it here merely as a matter of historical interest].

I was holding up a lamp-post outside the editorial offices of The Age, cigarette dangling loosely from my lips, waiting for Sheila to come round with the car. Tim Colebatch, economics editor, had hired me to find out who had been embezzling money from his checking account; turned out, he was. He had gotten all the debits and credits mixed up, and seemed to think that just because he still had checks he couldn’t be overdrawn. I spent an hour showing him the math, and it was the easiest hundred bucks I ever made (and yeah, to be on the safe side, I insisted on cash for my fee; there were probably enough bad checks with his autograph floating around town to paper the walls of his employer’s lobby).

It was dark and a light fog had moved in and I was standing in a round pool of light like the last man in the world, when a sleek, dark sedan cruised up to the building. The driver turned the engine off, and the headlights went out, leaving the car enveloped in the night. There was just the smallest twinkle of light reflected on the window of the backseat behind the driver. Shortly, it was replaced by two twinkles: the window had been rolled down, and someone with glasses was staring in the direction of the The Age .

Suddenly, Colebatch exited the building, all coat and hat and umbrella and bulging brief case; he looked like a cloakroom that had decided to just up and take a stroll. The engine of the sedan growled to life and the car began tracking Colebatch’s pace and direction. As the car drew abreast of the economist, I saw the barrel of a gun emerge from the open window. Instantly, I sized up the situation and shouted, “Tim, get down!” He did what any economist would do: he (a) stopped dead in his tracks and initiated an internal debate as to whether he was the “Tim” so addressed, (b) wondered about the import of the command, “Get down!”, and (c) pondered idly what John Maynard Keynes would have done in a similar spot. Cursing under my breath, I went to fill my hand with the Ruger Police Service-Six .38 caliber revolver tucked into my shoulder holster, but I was too slow (I had developed carpal tunnel syndrome from too many hours practicing holding my cigarette the way Bogart did). I gazed with horror as Colebatch was hit with a hail of . . . streams of water? To my relief, Eyeglasses was furiously working the pump action on what appeared to be the Rambo Two-Gallon Master Saturator model of Super Soaker squirt gun. And Colebatch was masterfully saturated. The sedan sped away, but not before I heard Eyeglasses shout, “Step on it, Bolt!”

Colebatch had staggered backwards, mouth gaping like an astonished carp, and had somehow managed to trigger his umbrella, which opened with a loud “Whumpf!”, catching his hat and propelling it into the darkness. I ran up to the economist and helped him sort himself out. “Wha . . . what happened?” he gasped. “Seems like another drive-by shooting by those right-wing hit-men you’ve been writing about. I, uh, didn’t get a very good look at them.” I smiled to myself. I had a strong suspicion as to their identities; but I liked Bolt’s opinion pieces, and I wasn’t about to jeopardize my commenting rights on Tim Blair’s blog just to satisfy this idiot’s sense of justice.

Another set of headlights rounded the corner and stopped beside us: it was Sheila in the canary-yellow, 1938 Packard Roadster. She got out of the car and clicked over to us in her high heels. “So, Paco, who’s your soggy friend?” Colebatch’s eyes widened to take maximum advantage of the view: 130 pounds of premium blond wrapped in a trench coat, the belt cinched tight around the middle, with the most perfectly symmetrical convexity fore and aft. Her curves probably reminded him of a graph of a ten-year economic cycle or something, because he was studying her with some intensity.

“C’mon, Colebatch, we need to get you someplace to dry out.” We were driving off, when a wino staggered to a stop in front of the building, to admire his new hat in the reflection in the window.


kc said...

Two phrases -
"leaving the car enveloped in the night."
"he looked like a cloakroom that had decided to just up and take a stroll."

Priceless. Beautiful.

Thanks for the rerun.

RebeccaH said...

I remember this one, and it's just as funny as the first time.

cac said...

As an (ahem) economist myself, I can only applaud the accuracy of the characterisation.

You are of course correct that there are two Colebatches prominent in Australian debate. Neither would appreciate being mistaken for the other.