Read Caper Online

Authors: Parnell Hall

Tags: #Mystery

Caper

CAPER

PARNELL HALL

PEGASUS BOOKS

NEW YORK

To Jim and Franny

1

I
NEEDED TO HAVE FUN.

I'd just come off a bad case. I'd gotten involved with a hitman, nearly gotten shot. If you've never had the pleasure, trust me, it's overrated. Particularly if you're not accustomed to such things. I have a photo ID, but that's where any resemblance between me and a private investigator stops. I don't have car chases or fist fights or any of that stuff. I don't even carry a gun.

I work for a negligence lawyer, the type who advertises on TV: “Free consultation. No fee unless recovery. We will come to your home.”

He won't of course. He'll send me. And I'll sit you down and get you to sign a retainer, and then I'll investigate your accident, which I could do in my sleep, they're all the same, hell,
I
could tell
you
what happened: you tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and broke your leg and you want to sue the City of New York.

It's dull as dishwater, and not the least bit dangerous. True, the clients tend to live in slums and crack houses, but I've actually never had a problem. The scary-looking dudes who make me nervous always assume I'm a cop, and give me a wide berth.

It's not like being shot.

Knock on wood.

But it isn't fun.

Far from it.

It's just a stopgap job in between my acting and writing gigs.

I've been doing it for years.

At any rate, having had a near-death experience I was up for anything. I was growing old, closing in on that final frontier, wondering was there one more adventure in my life before I shuffle off this mortal coil? Or something to that effect. I can't even get the quotes right anymore. Not that I ever could. Oh, imperfect, flawed, failure.

And so I spiraled down into a depressing abyss of despair and doldrums and decay.

I was ripe for adventure.

2

S
HE CAME WAFTING INTO MY OFFICE LIKE A JOLT OF
adolescence. I felt weak. I felt numb. Hormones were kicking in. Rockets were going off. Warning lights were flashing in my head. DANGER. TO YOUR BATTLE STATIONS. ALL SYSTEMS ON ALERT. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. YOU ARE A MARRIED MAN. REPEAT, YOU ARE A MARRIED MAN. NOT A DEPRESSED, PATHETIC GEEZER, LUSTING AFTER THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. REPEAT. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. IF THE MAN LOOKING BACK AT YOU IS NOT THE TWENTY-YEAR-OLD THAT YOU ENVISION YOURSELF TO BE, PUT YOUR LIBIDO DOWN AND STEP AWAY FROM THE HOT CHICK.

Did I mention I'm horny as hell? Well, keep it in mind.

Not that that's unusual. I'm a guy. Horny as hell is my default position. Has been ever since I was a teenager. Will be till the day I die. Only lately it's seemed more intense.

Maybe I'm just having a mid-life crisis. Maybe it's just the older we get the more self-aware. It's not that I'm thinking about sex more often, though I probably am, but merely the fact that I am
aware
that I am thinking about it, that the subconscious has become conscious, that I am now
thinking
about what I am thinking, which is the sort of stuff that therapists' dreams are made of. If I earned more money I could buy some analyst a condo.

For instance, when I see a woman I notice her breasts. That's nothing new. Mother Nature stuck them right there up front, hard to miss, and I am appreciative. Only discreetly so. I do not ogle, goggle, stare, wolf-whistle, rubberneck, or any other boorish behavior of the knuckle-dragging neanderthal type.

I don't.

Only women
think
I do.

At least, that's the impression I get. When an attractive woman comes walking toward me, I am convinced that
she
thinks I'm looking at her breasts. Because she gives me that impression.
She
looks at her breasts. As if to say, “My God, why is he staring? Is my bra unhooked? Is my nipple exposed? Did I forget to wear a shirt? Why is that disgusting pervert looking at me?”

I realize this is all in my head, that is not what is happening at all, what I am observing is simple eye avoidance. The woman looks down, shifts her eyes away from those of the stranger. I know that plain as day.

Doesn't help.

As far as I'm concerned, she looked at her breasts because I'm a disgusting pig.

And to a certain extent I'm right. Because, whether or not
she's
thinking about her breasts at that point,
I
am. So for all practical purposes I've become that boorish lout that I believe she perceives me to be.

But I digress.

I was talking about my client.

Jennifer Weldon couldn't have been more than twenty-two or twenty-three, most likely younger. She had blonde hair, lopped off and curling in, a pear-shaped halo around her head. Blue eyes, turned-up nose, pouty mouth, chirpy cheerleader look. That's probably more description than I've ever given a client of mine. Of course, she was wearing a scoop-neck pullover. I guess I just wanted to show I was looking at her face.

I smiled hello.

She looked at her breasts.

I offered her a chair, sat behind my desk. Grabbed a pen and a legal pad, flipped open to a random page. It's a good tactic, puts clients at their ease. I've done it several times. I don't think I've ever written a note.

“What can I do for you?” I said.

“It's my daughter.”

I reevaluated my assessment. This woman had a child? What, did she get knocked up when she was fifteen? Kid must be one or two. Guy must have skipped town. She must want me to find him. What a sordid affair.

“You have a daughter?”

“Of course I have a daughter. That's why I need help.” She sucked in her breath. “David doesn't know I'm here.”

“David?”

“My husband.”

“You have a husband?”

She looked at me as if I were a moron. “Yes, I've got a husband. And he doesn't know I'm here.”

“I don't understand.”

“Of course you don't. I haven't told you yet.” She sighed. “I'm not telling this well. I guess I'm upset.”

“What's the matter?”

“It's my daughter. She's headstrong. I can't deal with her.”

“How old is your daughter?”

“Sixteen.”

I blinked. “You have a teenage daughter?”

“Yes.”

“You're not old enough to have a teenage daughter.”

She scowled. “Are you flirting with me? I find that highly inappropriate.”

“I'm not flirting with you. I'm having age issues. It has nothing to do with your case. You got a teenage daughter you can't deal with. What's the problem with her?”

“She's skipping school.”

I smiled, shook my head. “I'm not a truant officer.”

“No, of course not. But …”

“But what?”

“You're an investigator. You could find out.”

“Find out what?”

“Find out why.”

“She probably doesn't like it.”

“Yes, that's very clever. Can you do it?”

“I don't know what you want me to do. You want me to find your daughter?”

“Heavens, no.”

“You
don't
want me to find your daughter?

“I don't
need
you to find my daughter. She's in school. At least, I hope she is.”

“She's not a runaway?”

“Certainly not. She lives with us.”

“Where?”

“In our apartment.”

“Where's that?”

“Park Avenue and Eighty-fourth.”

“Nice address. I may have to adjust my fee.”

“I'm glad you think this is funny.”

“I don't think it's funny. I'm just trying to understand the situation. Which is a little difficult, because you haven't painted a very clear picture. You want me to drag this out of you in a way you obviously find irritating, or would you like to take a deep breath and just lay it on me?”

She actually took a deep breath.

I kept my eyes on her face.

“Sharon's a bright girl, does well, never gave us any trouble, gets her homework in on time, gets good grades. Comes home on time. Doesn't hang out with the wrong crowd.”

“The wrong crowd?”

She cocked her head. “Oh, my God. You're being condescending? Judgmental?”

“Not at all.”

“Really? I could practically hear a disapproving ‘tut tut.'”

“Have you had these auditory hallucinations often?”

“Stop trying to be clever. You're no good at it.”

“I know. Only one of my many failings. I don't suppose you'll be hiring me then.”

“You don't want the job?”

I didn't. My client had gone from being a red-hot mama to an overprotective mama. One immune to my wit. She also reminded me too forcibly of the high-powered young women executive types who scared the shit out of me when I was fresh out of college working job-jobs, making the rounds, and trying to get my sea legs.

“I don't know what you want me to do. You tell me your daughter's skipping school. I ask you where she is, you tell me she's
in
school. She's a bright girl, gets good grades, doesn't hang around with the wrong crowd. Your story doesn't add up. Either there's something you're not telling me, or I don't know why you're here.”

She stared at me defiantly for a moment, then dissolved into tears.

Oh, dear.

Attractive weeping women are not my forte. Should I put my arm around her? Pat her on the shoulder? Look down her shirt?

I took her in my arms, averted my eyes, let her cry herself out.

She pulled away, snuffled, fumbled in her purse for a tissue.

“All right,” I said. “What's the story.”

She snuffled again, looked up, set her chin.

“I think she's turning tricks.”

3

R
ICHARD
R
OSENBERG COULD NOT HAVE LOOKED MORE SKEPTICAL
had I told him I was going to Mars. “Why did she hire you?”

“She's afraid her daughter's turning tricks.”

“I got all that. Why you?”

“I'm a private detective.”

“In the loosest sense of the word. Stanley, this is the first question to consider every time you have a potential client. Why are they hiring you? I mean you, specifically. Why would any reasonably intelligent, rational person, who had not completely taken leave of their senses, ever think of hiring you?”


You
hired me.”

“For the most menial job possible. A trained chimpanzee could do the work you do. Assuming he could drive a car.”

“That's rather sexist.”

“What?”

“Assuming the chimpanzee's male. Or do you only hire male chimpanzees?”

“It's no laughing matter, Stanley. This is what always happens to you. You walk into something, wide-eyed, innocent, naive, trusting. Next thing you know you're wanting me to bail you out of jail.”

“When have you ever bailed me out of jail?”

“When have I not? Granted, I've never put up any money, but I've got you released on your own recognizance. The point is, you're a credulous fool. What do you really know about this woman?”

“She's pretty.”

“Ah. Then vetting her is unnecessary. A pretty woman couldn't be up to anything.”

“She paid me cash.”

“Cash is good. I happen to like cash. But
why
did she pay you in cash?”

“She didn't want her husband to find out.”

“Why not?”

“She thought it would upset him.”

“And you bought that?”

“Why not? It
would
upset him.”

“More than it upset her? Stanley, you have this romantic idea about parents and children. You think no girl with a father can be a hooker. Trust me, they all have them.”

“These are nice people.”

Other books
MacFarlane's Ridge by Patti Wigington
Pitch Black by Leslie A. Kelly
Surest Poison, The by Campbell, Chester D.
The Mirror of Fate by T. A. Barron
A Little Ray of Sunshine by Lani Diane Rich
The Ravens’ Banquet by Clifford Beal